LOIE HOLLOWELL: Point of Entryby Hearne Pardee
PACE GALLERY (PALO ALTO) | SEPTEMBER 19 – NOVEMBER 2, 2017
In her impressive debut exhibition at Pace Gallery’s recently opened space in Palo Alto, Loie Hollowell compresses powerful, evocative images into highly crafted objects. Often compared to Georgia O’Keeffe’s for their fusion of sexuality and landscape, the young artist’s paintings evoke the idealism of early twentieth century modernism. Their retro styling channels that era’s excitement over breakthroughs in science and art, akin to today’s enthusiasm for new technology; it harks back to the spiritual aspirations of the Transcendental Painters Group, founded in New Mexico in the 1930s, but also recalls the efforts of Bauhaus artists in Germany to combine art with industrial design. While making no explicit allusions to technology, Hollowell’s intense colors and clearly articulated surfaces extend the legacy of Bauhaus teacher Joseph Albers and his students, who lent their works an engineered character—imagine the chromatic orchestration of Richard Anuskiewicz fused to the smoothly rendered contours of William Bailey’s vessels. Much as O’Keeffe came to apply tight, photographic rendering to the sublime emptiness of early, free-flowing watercolors like Light Coming on the Plains (1917), Hollowell brings high contrast resolution to her cleanly fabricated forms, using dramatic variations in dark and light to emphasize surface curvature and suggest deep space. By adding relief to her surfaces, Hollowell takes this process of objectification still further.
But the appeal of the work rests not so much in its sturdy construction as in its powerful imagery. Where O’Keeffe always denied any sexual reference to her vaginal forms, Hollowell is totally frank about the body parts and orifices she depicts. Her paintings begin in the intimate, tactile medium of pastel; a group of eight works in the gallery office seems like an incubator for images, where genital icons emerge in pulsating light. Hollowell compresses and edits these, transferring them onto panels which she then builds up with foam and sawdust—some echo of Jay DeFeo’s The Rose, yet Hollowell’s practice is more deliberate, more product than process-based. If there’s a certain kitschy fetishism to this literal technique, it’s partly offset by the effects of color, which often camouflage the three-dimensionality of the surface, generating sensory engagement: viewers are drawn in, forced to examine the works from the side to determine their contours and to attend to the closely worked texture of the surface. Crisply layered planes reinforce the bulging surface tension in From the Beginning (2017), while Red Pendulum (2017) introduces suggested movement (the monthly cycle of the moon?) and makes use of atmospheric perspective to emphasize the progressive emergence of a suspended disc into the viewer’s space—a textured object that invites touch.
Hollowell’s formal rigor and insistent symmetry draws viewers into the work on other levels as well. By making paired images—rendering identical compositions in contrasting colors—Hollowell generates links among the works themselves, and she sets up further dialogues within the installation, as gallery walls mirror one another across the room. Mirroring becomes more complex in the two triptychs on opposite walls in the final gallery, which are fully symmetrical only in relation to one another.
This sort of data compression, which extends the interplay of positive and negative spaces within the paintings, recalls Freud’s analysis of the efficiency of the unconscious in creating dreams, but goes further. Hollowell’s association of the light in her paintings with orgasm, cited in the press release, evokes connections to earlier efforts to engineer bodily energy, such as Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box, or to the proto-psychedelic technology of Beat poet Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine, a rotating light box intended to generate transcendent, hypnotic states. As Hollowell’s work harks back to such early efforts to link technology, art and spirituality, it engages with more immediate concerns about technology’s transformation of our bodies. Its power resides in her cultivation of bodily awareness; one hopes she can sustain its intimate, spiritual light.
HEARNE PARDEE is a painter based in New York and Northern California.