Veteran Painter Frank Baker Holmes Discusses His Prix de Rome and Life as an Artist
“I think the idea that art is everywhere isn’t true. Art is made. Beauty is everywhere.”
— Frank Holmes
I met Frank Holmes when I was an art student at Ohio University. He’d gotten his Bachelor’s at Pratt Institute and just finished seven years of teaching when he came to Athens to work on his Master’s degree. I remember the stir it created because somehow the word got around that he was an incredible painter and I made it an aim to get into one of his classes. At some point we saw his work, either in a show there in Siegfried Hall, or perhaps a visit to his home, and I was pretty much floored. His paintings of interiors were so intricate and detailed, and showed a complete mastery of the medium. They were also totally at odds stylistically with the abstract expressionism that was so in vogue.
During his time there while getting his degree he won the Prix de Rome, an elite prize in which only a few hand-picked artists receive the opportunity to spend an all-expenses-paid stint making art in Italy, studio space included, at The American Academy in Rome.
American Academy in Rome is a 120-year-old operation modeled after the French Academy. It was at one time independently funded with a three-year free ride. Now it’s more all-inclusive for fewer years. Holmes had a friend at Pratt who won the grant in 1962 when it was still for three years. When Holmes won, it was down to two — still a fabulous grant, two years with no obligation other than to do your work.
Upon returning from Europe Holmes went to New York where he had lived before his years at Ohio. I had a couple artist friends who were O.U. grads and one of them told me he had seen Frank while in New York. I asked for a report on how he was doing and I was told he was painting a piano, that he had a loft and had spent a whole year doing studies on this grand object. That was the last I heard.
Four decades later I began wondering whatever became of this incredibly talented painter who had won a Prix de Rome then went to make his mark in the Big Apple. A few minutes on Google directed me to a gallery that represented him and I made inquiry. I got lucky. Here are some notes from our…