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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

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NOV 2021 Issue
ArtSeen

Eric Holzman: Thinning the Veil

Eric Holzman, <em>Tree by the River</em>, 2019–21. Oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.
Eric Holzman, Tree by the River, 2019–21. Oil on canvas, 28 x 22 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.
On View
Equity Gallery
November 3 – 27, 2021
New York

I first saw Eric Holzman’s paintings in 2015 in the back room of Lori Bookstein’s gallery, where he exhibited heavily worked landscapes with painted fields of bright color between trees and shrubs. Those passages had the same magnetic effect as the sky of Giorgione’s Tempest, its blue mass roiling against the foliage. In his current show, Holzman has departed from that play between positive and negative but has retained the same chromatic range. The result is anachronistic and frequently pleasurable, as if the deeply felt nocturnes of Blakelock or Ryder had been imbued with a more hallucinatory palette. The oldest painting in this collection of landscapes, still lifes, and portraits was begun in 1998 and completed 20 years later. That span is indicative of Holzman’s process, where surfaces are built up and removed over years, their pentimenti giving form to a final image.

Eric Holzman, <em>The Little Tree</em>, 2022. Oil on canvas, 44 x 35 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.
Eric Holzman, The Little Tree, 2022. Oil on canvas, 44 x 35 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.

The landscapes are most compelling simply because trees and clouds dissolve more readily into fields of brushwork than figures or vases do. They also speak more to the medium’s distorting power. Returning to the same flowerpots over many sessions of painting only serves to emphasize the subjects’ stillness—which is the point—and the accretions of yellow and earth pigments can feel like a painterly varnish merely stating time’s passage rather than engaging with it. It is weirdly satisfying to gaze at ripe pears through a substance that appears simultaneously dusty and wet, but I’m continuously drawn back to Holzman’s trees and skies. He begins them in plein air sessions mostly in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, then continues in the studio, sometimes for decades, until amorphous layers of green build up into pictures of great mystery.

The largest canvas, The Little Tree (dated 2022 on the checklist to indicate the potential for reworking), reprises a motif from a smaller painting that was in the Bookstein show. It is a rounder and more Edenic landscape than the rest, its trees swaying a bit and topped with solid puffs of leaves—Matisse’s Joy of Life comes to mind. Up close, even this more composed and delineated scene begins to dissolve into nebulae as texture and color fail to describe anything but atmosphere. In others, the effect is more pronounced, mottled fields of green creating a general blur from which lone branches or trunks emerge. Portions of these compositions are also covered with irregular dots and dabs of contrasting pigment, less reminiscent of pointillism than of Whistler’s fireworks in his nocturnes. In Holzman’s case, they could read as tiny blooms in the forest, or fireflies, even light glinting off of dew. But like much of his process, this action is not a description but an accretion.

Eric Holzman, <em>Middle Rd #4</em>, 2014–15. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.
Eric Holzman, Middle Rd #4, 2014–15. Oil on canvas. 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy Equity Gallery, New York.

One of the show’s triumphs is Middle Rd #4 (2014–15), a diminutive green and gray canvas, its visible layer of pigment suggesting a shallow field leading to modest foliage, an overcast sky beyond that. The elements are all fairly balanced, and occasional flecks of yellow and white further a general sense of equilibrium: from afar, the picture is a general wash of color and form, reading plainly as landscape. Slowly, textures reveal themselves: spindles of former brush, thickly painted branches reaching into the top third of the canvas, now overpainted as sky. The ridges and bumps of these past compositions catch against various painterly actions of the top layer, and the resulting maze of lines jumps forward. Is this a disparity of remembered moments? Or evidence of a landscape that has changed, a felled tree living on in this durational painting? I had the sense, in front of the picture, of snapping out of a haze, or waking to branches scraping against a window in thick fog. The painting’s pentimenti also took on a human character, like a face turning away from the viewer and presenting a mass of tangled hair. In his best work, it is not that Holzman is creating light out of density, but that he is countering the opacity of his medium. That act reaches beyond melancholy and classicism, and modestly declares the time spent painting as the true subject.

Contributor

Louis Block

Louis Block is a painter based in Brooklyn.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

All Issues