For her first exhibition at Feuer/Mesler and second solo presentation in New York, painter Loie Hollowell hewed to a personal vocabulary of forms—almonds, bullet-shaped protuberances, slender-peaked droplets, and highly modeled gentle curves with receding echoes—that she has developed over the past two years. The show’s title, “Mother Tongue,” not only conveyed the way in which her visual language (while following its own syntactic logic) seems almost instinctively comprehensible, but also hinted at the work’s overwhelmingly bodily associations.
The ten paintings on view (all 2016) constantly prompt the viewer to renegotiate her relation to the canvases and the kind of pictorial space they employ. In Rise, Risen, geometric shapes suggest landmasses viewed aerially as well as glowing, manifestly bizarre atmospheric events that hover above an inferred horizon line. Despite such apparent, if oblique, allusions to landscape, the paintings’ abstraction of the human form is paramount. Those geometric shapes in Rise, Risen, for instance, undeniably resemble nipples. Meanwhile, concentric circles stacked in increasingly saturated mustard hues in Incoming Tide recall a radiant planet but also bear more decidedly rectal associations. Hollowell’s paintings conjure bouncing butts, spread cheeks, sloping mounds, erect protrusions, perhaps even moments of conception. And like the bodies to which they refer, the works are not flat (a material fact regrettably lost in reproduction, due to the flattening effects of photography). Hollowell built up sculptural passages with acrylic gel mixed with sawdust or, alternately, attached cut pieces of high-density foam that she sometimes incised, creating dynamic plays of light and shadow. Tiny peaks, the result of applying oil with a sponge, absorb light from one angle but reflect it from another, variously lending her surfaces the effects of inky velvet or glittering sand.
In this, Hollowell emphasizes light’s effects both in and on the canvas—Deep Canyon is a prime example—and thereby doubles down on the pictorial luminosity shown across the works, which frequently feature pale yellow starlike orbs or gleaming shafts, or simply seem to exude some kind of primordial light from within their representational fields. The literal dimensionality of the canvases is new for Hollowell and was inspired by her desire to enhance the haptic nature of a cleftlike line that appears amid a twisting, double-pronged form she depicted throughout her 2015 “Linked Lingam” series.
Last year, in a group show in Marfa, Texas, Hollowell exhibited her work alongside 1940s canvases by transcendental painters Florence Miller Pierce and Agnes Pelton, whose mystical iconography, radiant compositional symmetry, and revelatory waking visions seem a wellspring of inspiration for her. Georgia O’Keeffe, too, haunts her work: in 2015, as an homage to O’Keeffe, Hollowell made a painting (Back to the Origin) portraying a pink mound with a thin, dark slit. Hollowell thus joins a lineage of women painters who probed the relationship between abstraction, the body, and the landscape, but, unlike her forebears, she offers a representational mode entirely forthright, frank, and unapologetic about its bodily referents. In a painting shown in the Feuer/Mesler exhibition, Hung (down), Hollowell presents an upturned figure pressured—deformed, even—by two red-tipped phalluses. The work was her reaction to the media’s sexist coverage of the first female presidential nominee of a major party in this country, and stresses the exigency of figuring those very bodies at risk of unjust duress. Hollowell does so afresh, and on her own terms.