A Review of Loie Hollowell at Pace, London
A contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe with a twist of twenty-first century humour and liberation, Loie Hollowell’s intensely-coloured and graphic works comment intimately on the female form and sexuality.
The Brooklyn-based artist plays with notions of femininity and sexuality without shying away from provocative imagery. The geometric, almost sculptural forms across her canvases balance abstraction and figuration. Hollowell’s work is humorous, but nods to a rich history of abstracted figuration - O’Keeffe, of course, and Elizabeth Murray (another PACE artist), Hilma af Klimt, amongst so many others.
In October 2017, Bloomberg named Hollowell as an artist to watch after a frenzied buying spree by established collectors at Frieze London, which marked her as a rising star in the contemporary art world. This Pace exhibition confirms that her work and popularity to be anything but ephemeral.
Hollowell is in the process of conceiving a child, and the theme of procreation penetrates the exhibition - vaginal and phallic symbolism prevalent throughout. The works are imaginatively named, too from A Gentle Meeting of Tips to Touchy Subject. You can’t ignore the sexual devices at play, especially with the addition of three-dimensional canvases that bulge in all the right places, but the imagery on top is also reminiscent of sci-fi films - the works remind me simultaneously of sexual and sacred iconography as well as electrical circuit boards with their graphic shapes and primary colours.
The colours and forms scream Pop Art, Op Art, all through the lens of American Modernism. One can see a touch of Sonia Delauney in there, too, with the strong colours and devotion to pattern and form and the legacy of Orphism. I also got hints of Blair Thurman in the sculptural quality of the pieces.
The sketches in the intimate pop-up room within the gallery space show Hollowell’s thought processes in terms of creating the tightly-formed paintings that populate the surrounding walls. It is an intimate experience, the cavernous space existing almost as a ‘womb’ within the exhibition space in another nod to the theme of the female body. Her sketches, complete with handwritten notes by Hollowell, are rendered in a much looser and more expressionist style than the graphic geometrics in the final canvases.
The rawness and primality of what Hollowell attempts to convey in the finished works feels even more intense in these small drawings. The divergence from sketch to canvas is intriguing - Hollowell tightens the painterly form quite significantly in the move from paper to canvas, opting for a bold and graphic approach that departs from the sense of intimate painterliness one gleans from seeing the tactile sketches - but fascinatingly, without losing any of the sensuality that goes with it.
Whilst the finished works are intense both in colour and form, they are softly expressed thanks to the gentle undulations of line both of paint and of the canvases themselves.
The paintings themselves, though, despite their formality and graphic nature, swell and curve in a tender and tactile rendering of the beauty of bodily form. Their organic and sculptural quality lend them a provocatively intimate and shape-shifting nature, which challenges perception and encourage the viewer to look not once, but twice - maybe three times - at each individual work, breaking down the age-old barriers between formal painting and sculpture.
The works are pulsating with sexuality, capturing the very moments of sexual pleasure and intimacy at its most basic, but most intense. Their abstraction works in a minimal yet perceptive manner to encourage and remind the viewer of something familiar - our own bodies and existence at a basic, primal level. In considering the act of conception through their form, they delve deeper into the theme of conception itself via evocations of the human body and sexual iconography. Hollowell’s work evokes an overarching theme of sensuality and primal female power, something which should indeed be celebrated.
Written by Georgia Messervy, a Contributor to Arteviste