Loie Hollowell's Sensuous, Suggestive Paintings Provoke and Delight
The white walls of Loie Hollowell’s sunlit studio in Queens are interrupted by explosions of color. Saturated tubular shapes are swirled and stacked to form sensuous, fleshy curves that morph from phallic and vaginal figures to protruding mountainscapes.
As Hollowell prepares for her first solo show in Palo Alto as a newly-minted member of Pace Gallery, I catch glimpses of her earlier works amidst her geometrical abstractions: a Frida Kahlo-like rendering of cacti in the top corner of her studio, a caricaturesque figure torturing another (an ex, I later learn) atop the bathroom sink – both reminders of the multiplicity of human experience the artist is grappling with.
Yet as an artist that draws so heavily from historical painters, Hollowell’s work is simultaneously uncategorizable. It exists in limbo between abstraction and realism, between sculpture and painting, between the Californian Light and Space movement and East Coast Regional Landscape art.
Hollowell grew up in the small town of Woodland. The Northern Californian open spaces, direct sunlight, and laser-level fields made a perfect breeding ground for an artist so deeply rooted in symmetry. But it wasn’t until finishing her undergraduate degree that Hollowell even began experimenting with painting as a medium. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of California in Santa Barbara in Sculpture and Performance Art, her feminist-driven nude performances transmuting into what are now abstractions of thighs, breasts, and vaginas.
“As I aged and had more experiences with my body, I thought about it more abstractly, but also more personally,” Hollowell says. “I wanted to express all kinds of intimacy: sex, orgasm, period, and ejaculation in a way that lets the most conservative viewer have an experience that might not be a sensual one but can still be something that’s explosive for the eyes.”
Indeed, the concentric circles of Full Frontal (in Green) could just as well be planets orbiting a solar system as the smooth curving of a breast; the penetrating rectal shape of Deep Canyon converges into a Californian landscape evocative of Judy Chicago’s kaleidoscopic sunrises.
Her deceptively simple works begin with sculpted high-density foam glued to a linen-covered panel. Photographic renderings make it impossible to appreciate the added dimension of illusory and real light that concavity and convexity add to Hollowell’s work, but a mixture of an acrylic gel medium and sawdust is subsequently applied to the surface to literally transform her abstracted body parts into shapely forms that disturb conventional relationships of figure and background. “It’s not abstraction with a big ‘A,’” Hollowell says. “But even the most abstract things have some reference. So I view my works as body landscapes through the language of minimizing forms to a more symbolic space.”
Though deeply enmeshed in the discipline of artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Pelton, Hollowell’s paintings hold unique aesthetic sensibilities and geometric compositions – a formal rigor she takes from her father. Yet in her desire to depict intimacy and expressions of ecstasy, Hollowell’s most prominent inspiration is not the Trascendental Painting Group that is often referenced in relation to her work, but the Neo-Tantric Indian artists of the sixties and seventies, most prominently Gulam Rasool Santosh and in particular one of his symmetrical, brightly-colored works that Hollowell stumbled across on her Instagram feed. From here comes the mandorla in her paintings, a vaginal shape harkening back to ancient Roman Catholic art that Hollowell abstracts into an almost anthropomorphic entity.
“I’m much more interested in how the body in an everyday way has transcendental experiences,” Hollowell says. “Even through something as simple as a breeze across your face. My work isn’t focused on spirituality. It’s about actual pleasure.”
Written by Mariana Fernandez
All art courtesy Loie Hollowell and PACE Gallery, New York