Growing up in Hāwera in the 1950s offered Philip Holmes paltry cultural experiences. But it also was a source of inspiration for his lengthy, prolific and successful professional art career.
From the age of 6, he knew he wanted to be an artist and he drew constantly. He would search for paintings, drawings and sculptures in his home town.
"I went round and round Hawera trying to find culture."
He did find a statute of enterprising settler Arthur Albert Fantham in King Edward Park and knew there were statutes in the Catholic church but he wasn't allowed in there.
"So I had to stare at the crucifix outside the Catholic church."
However, living in South Taranaki wasn't completely dire because he credits his time there as piquing his interest in tangata whenua. He has painted about 500 Māori and researched each one.
Sitting in the back of his parents' car he would look for entrenchments on the hills, noticing signs of old Māoridom.
He was receptive to what his father told him about the history of the area. "Unknowingly, he was seeding my mind for the history of New Zealand."
He felt the wairua of the whenua; many of the battles of the Taranaki Wars were centred around Hāwera.
Holmes has just completed a portrait of Ereni Te Awe Awe, the sister of Rangitāne chief Te Peeti Te Awe Awe. Ereni commissioned the white carrara marble statue of Te Peeti that was constructed in 1907 and still stands in Te Marae o Hine - The Square.
Last year, Holmes received a $20,000 Creative New Zealand grant to do the oil painting, which he will donate to the city. It took "ages" and is based on a photo of Ereni he found in a book about 20 years ago. Sadly, the overexposed photo was only titled Unknown Māori Woman From the East Coast.
The painting will be on display at Square Edge Arts Centre in July. It will be his first painting to be shown in Palmerston North for 17 years.
Holmes researched the clothes Ereni was wearing and did a lot of history reading. His main focus for 30 years has been portraits of contemporary Māori.
Holmes is concerned about portraits of Māori leaving Aotearoa and says he would never sell a work privately if he knew it was going overseas.
Educated at Whanganui Collegiate School, Holmes came to Palmy in 1972 as a teachers college student.
In 1974, he announced to his flatmates he wanted to be an artist. They weren't convinced, saying he was living in some kind of fantasy world, and got down on the lounge floor to go through the Evening Standard vacancies section. On the third night they said they had found him a suitable job - a paste-up artist for the Guardian, the very paper you are reading today.
He stuck with that job for a while, but then spent time in Hamilton and Ōpōtiki. He participated in town hall exhibitions in Ōpōtiki and when he came back to Palmerston North in 1976, decided he would be an artist. He can still remember that first Monday morning as everyone in his street left for work while he sat in his flat and thought "I'm an artist now".
"I actually began to paint a lot better from that moment."
He had his first exhibition in Palmerston North that same year. He says when he first started painting professionally it was a different environment to today's. Now it's much harder, especially with the cost of framing and the percentage of commission sellers seek.
Sometimes he would supplement his income scrub cutting and working on friends' farms.
Holmes has had no formal art training but recommends artists do get training because you learn all the methods and tricks. He says you have to persevere to learn artistic techniques.
He has, however, studied Māori art and history.
Working in both conté and oil, Holmes is acknowledged as one of New Zealand's finest portrait painters.