© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Artist Ryan Holmes brings together pop culture and Lansing landmarks with chalk and paint

Ryan Holmes  posing in a "I Love Lansing" Shirt in front of stairs and a wall of art
Whitney Lee Jessup
Ryan Holmes was named the city's top artist for 2023 in the Lansing City Pulse's annual Top of the Town awards as voted on by community members.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon emerging from Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo. Disney’s blue alien Stitch eating ice cream at Artic Corner and a Sasquatch grabbing some Chip Dip from Quality Dairy.

These are all paintings by artist Ryan Holmes that have gotten a lot of social media attention in recent months, but the Lansing artist has been creating art his entire life.

As a kid, Ryan Holmes says he was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He also loved to draw. So, the margins of all his tests were filled with doodles of Michelangelo and his brothers. That was until his teacher pulled him out of class to talk with his mother.

But he wasn’t in trouble like he expected.

"She basically told my mom at a very young age that they saw that there was potential in what I was doing," he said.

"I understood how simple shapes worked and how they correlate them to create the characters."

After that, his mother put him in classes and summer camps, and he’s been creating art ever since.

"It's a beautiful thing to be able to just be a creator."

Some Lansing residents may know him for his chalk drawings that he used to create at the Tin Can Bar downtown.

He started by competing in a contest at the dive’s chalkboard. Once he won, he kept drawing at the bar every week for more than a decade.

"I've done everything from like the Mona Lisa to The Simpsons to by the end of it, I was doing movie covers," Holmes said.

Ryan's car has a custom paint job mashing up the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 and the Batmobile parked outside of an artist booth in downtown Lansing
Ryan Holmes
Ryan's car has a custom paint job mashing up the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 and the Batmobile.

Holmes’ love for pop culture is obvious. His home is full of comic books and props from the shows and movies he watched as a kid like The Ghostbusters.

He even drives a car with a custom paint job to look like the Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 car mashed up with the Batmobile.

Ryan Holmes holding his Sasquatch piece with the company's leader Ken Martin.
Ryan Holmes
Quality Dairy CEO Ken Martin purchased Holmes' Sasquatch piece for the company's corporate office.

"I love that feeling where it's just like, 'Oh, have you seen that?' And people talking about it. So, that's always kind of the goal."

In the past few years, he has moved away from chalk and picked up painting more.

His series of works that he shared last fall mashing up creatures and cartoons with Lansing landmarks gained a lot of traction.

Like when he posted the Quality Dairy Sasquatch painting, and a bidding war started. Ultimately, the CEO of QD took it home.

"I think Lansing is an amazing place, and this helps. It's been fun to put Lansing on other people's radar and show them that there's creative people here," he said.

While most of his paintings are light and fun with a touch of humor, Holmes brings up a piece he says is important to him that’s much different from the others.

It’s a self-portrait called The Agony of a Smile, and it’s a visceral piece.

A man made of bones and mechanical parts holds a glowing phone to his face as a machine pulls back his skin to form a tight and painful smile. Holmes says it reflects a difficult period in his life.

Holmes' painting "The Agony of a Smile"
Sophia Saliby
Holmes calls The Agony of a Smile a self-portrait created during a difficult period in his life. He's since leaned on his community for support.

"The idea was I got to a point where mentally I was not happy. I was stressed. I didn't understand seasonal depression and how it affected me."

Holmes says the piece helped him process some of those feelings, and he let himself lean on the people who care about him for support.

"In this weird way, in this weird life, I've cultivated a community that truly does love me."

Holmes is giving that love back with his art.

A chalk piece he drew last year celebrates Lansing by using a gold key to represent the city. The design features Lansing’s area code 517, the Eckert Power Plant Stacks and the downtown skyline.

He says he also wanted to highlight Lansing’s diversity.

“Working in things like trans flag colors, working in the pride colors, working in a Black and Brown love. Giving the same balance and understanding that our people, our culture, the fact that we are a melting pot in so many different ways," he said.

"That's what allows us to have such a strong art culture."

Looking ahead, Holmes says he doesn’t want to give too much away about the projects he has lined up for the rest of the year, but he promises more art that he hopes will make Lansing a better place.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!