LONG MUSEUM WEST BUND
From April 24, 2021 to July 11, 2021, the Long Museum (West Bund) is pleased to present ‘Loie Hollowell: Recalibrate’, the New York-based, American artist’s first solo museum exhibition and debut presentation in China.
The show is comprised of 15 large-scale paintings created between 2018 and 2020. Produced over the last two years, the canvases belong to Loie Hollowell’s series of Plumb Line paintings which address the artist’s embodiment of pregnancy and render the transfiguration of the female body in stages of prenatal and postpartum existence. Originating in autobiography, the works respond to the artist’s pregnancy with her first child, who was born in December 2018, and the experience of the physical and psychological postpartum journey as it morphed into the pregnancy of her second child, who was born in April 2020. Art historian Elizabeth Buhe reflects on this profound body of work, noting “We telescope from micro- to macroscopic, from internal to external experience, and from the self to the new life one’s own body can harbor.”
Loie Hollowell is known for her paintings that explore the human body in vibrant geometric abstractions, often referencing the act of conception, pregnancy, the experience of giving birth, postpartum reflections, and human anatomy with an emphasis given to the contours of female forms. Void of storytelling, her subject matter emerges from phenomenological experience. It harnesses an energy and spirit that willfully penetrates the body, looking both inward and outward, manifesting as something that can be at once felt and observed. In the artist’s words: “Beauty for me is not just visual, it is also experiential. I want the viewer to come away not necessarily knowing what I was trying to tell them about, say, my birth experience, but absorbing an impression of brightness or richness or radiance that has something to do with their relationship to their own body.”
The works on view in this exhibition consider the female body in a state of realignment: reconciling the physical and psychological realities of postpartum, rejuvenating the well-being of the body post-birth, and repositioning it for a renewed journey of fertility and conception. The body has long been a central focus in Hollowell’s artistic practice. As her canvases evolved into figurative paintings, taking the female body as her subject, and then shifted toward abstraction, Hollowell began to break-up and divide the figure within her frame. She developed a pared down visual language characterized by vibrant hues, varied surface textures, the repetition of geometric forms, and compositional symmetry. Illuminated by auras of glinting
sensuous color, this focused selection of works pulsates with a life-giving vitality that embraces the fortitude and vulnerability of the artist’s post-birth and pre-pregnant body.
These paintings are the artist’s largest works to date and absorb the full scale of the human figure into the framework of the canvas, mapping the body into both horizontal and vertical regions and dividing it into distinct corporeal forms. Each painting is united by a luminous line that runs down the center of the canvas off of which beaming, tonal half-moons protrude. The semi-circles are paired, two small crescents and two large, one set adjoined to either side. A glowing orb adorns the line and anchors the spine of the figure while an almond-shaped mandorla punctuates our gaze as we observe the dilating orbs descending down the surface of the canvas. Large concentric rings of circular or oblong forms embrace the figure and emit radiating hues that surround her. Manifested as breast, belly, butt, vulva, and ovum, this is the artist’s body: recalibrated. This is her body, recovering, recharging, and ripe.
Hollowell’s paintings are enraptured in light and shadow. Washed in subtle gradations of dazzling, electric and bold, jewel-toned hues, her handling of paint sparks dialogues between flatness and depth, figure and ground, color and contour. Hovering behind the artist’s anthropomorphic forms are layers of chromatic ellipses that spread outward toward the edges of the canvas. In different paintings, the orbs fade from bronze to apricot, jade to aqua, crimson to cindered rose. They inscribe the swelling semi-circles, in royal purple, lime, and cyan, within their cells, which stand out in stark relief. For the artist, color is an expression of her intersubjective experiences, alluding to emotional states of peace, exhaustion, agony, and bliss.
In some paintings, such as Red Hole (2019), a throbbing sphere encircles the figure. A white light glistens from its outermost edges while graduations of color deepen inward to the depths and shaded darkness of the center apex. This entry point is where night meets day, a collision of worlds from one gateway to the next. Other paintings substitute the ovum for the hole. In Purple Ovum (2020), a blackened edge reverses the chromatic effect that the artist achieved prior. The contours of the purple ovoid soften toward the center, diffusing a warm luster from within. Employing egg-shaped forms, Hollowell engages with meditations of fertility and fecundity in the postpartum period.
Hollowell achieves complex and shifting perceptual effects through the unexpected textural quality that she builds up on the surface of her canvases. Her compositional process begins with a line drawing, where she reduces form and establishes relationships between shapes and with the frame of the canvas. Then, she initiates a pastel drawing on paper and develops an exchange between color and form. Covering her panels in linen, she sculpts an uneven surface and builds elements in relief. Hollowell employs high-density foam that is milled and glued to the panel, which she covers and seals with an acrylic medium to achieve a white surface. Using fine, visible brushstrokes and sponged paint, she creates a circular, swirling texture as she blends paint. Her marks add sculptural volume and topography to the matte fields of her canvases, catching and refracting ambient light and drawing attention to the internal luminosity achieved through her subtle, sensual color gradients.
About the Artist
Loie Hollowell (born in Woodland, California in 1983) earned a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Known for paintings and drawings that explore the bodily landscape, Hollowell’s practice exists in the liminal space between abstraction and figuration, otherworldly and corporeal. Originating in autobiography, her work explores themes of sexuality, pregnancy and birth. Hollowell’s geometric compositions use symbolic shapes such as the mandorla, ogee, and lingam to build her distinctive visual lexicon. In referencing her own personal experiences, Hollowell’s paintings are at once personal and universal in their fierce vulnerability. Her use of symmetry – often anchoring her compositions in a central, singular axis – relates her paintings to her own body as well as the natural world.
For Hollowell, the scale of her work is particularly significant as she creates each work in direct correlation with the size of the body part depicted, be it her head, breasts, groin, or entire body. Furthering her exploration of physicality, Hollowell adheres sculpted forms onto her canvases to confound expectations of painting. Hollowell’s protruding forms are blended seamlessly, forcing the viewer to move around the canvas to determine whether it is an illusory flat surface or three-dimensional. This adds a playful, performative aspect to her work that speaks to Hollowell’s masterful manipulation of space, surface, light and shadow.
With strong colors, varied textures, and geometric symmetry, Hollowell’s practice is situated in lineage with the work of American artists like Agnes Pelton, Georgia O’Keeffe and Judy Chicago. She is also greatly influenced by the work of the California Light and Space Movement as well as Neo-Tantric painters like Ghulam Rasool Santosh and Biren De.
Hollowell’s work is held in the collections of many leading international museums and institutions including the Arts Council England, London, UK; Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland; He Art Museum, Shunde, China; Long Museum, Shanghai, China; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas; Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California.
Loie Hollowell lives and works in Queens, New York.