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Body of art

Pace Gallery presents debut exhibition of paintings by Loie Hollowell

When Pace Gallery's Palo Alto branch opened its doors in 2016, its inaugural exhibition consisted of the light-inspired work of James Turrell. Since then, the gallery has mainly pulled from its stable of known, blue-chip artists such as Louise Nevelson and David Hockney. This month, however, the gallery is taking a chance on a new, untried artist from Davis, California.

Loie Hollowell's exhibition "Point of Entry" consists of eight paintings and several works on paper. The show, on view until Nov. 2, has generated a lot of buzz both because of the artist's working technique and her subject matter.

Entering the gallery, the viewer encounters two large oil paintings that have a decidedly architectural quality to them. "The Land's Part" are stylized, sharply geometric and colorful, with an art deco quality that is both pleasing and intriguing. The two paintings (the artist often makes work in two versions, referring to them as "sisters") are mirror images, created using two color schemes: blue, red and purple in one and yellow, blue and green in the other.

"I chose these paintings for the entry gallery because of the way they fit with the retro chandeliers and stained glass in this room," explained Pace Director Elizabeth Sullivan. She may have also been thinking about how these works ease the visitor into the next room, where Hollowell's very honest, perhaps explicit, paintings of her body are on view.

"It's my body, it's all I know, so of course I am going to paint it," explained Hollowell at a recent lecture at Stanford University's Anderson Collection. Specifically, she paints her (and her husband's) genitalia, using Italian Renaissance symbols such as the mandorla (almond shape for the vagina) and the lingam (the phallus). But is this background information necessary to enjoy, and appreciate, Hollowell's work? Not really. Her paintings are such lush, colorful evocations of shape and form that reference points are superfluous. And her technique, which blurs the line between painting and sculpture, is so unusual and interesting that the eye is mainly engaged in examining surface contours and textures.

In a telephone interview, Hollowell explained that each painting begins with a small line drawing; she then makes a pastel sketch, working out the plan for color and texture. She employs a time-consuming process utilizing poplar panel that has been linen-mounted and then sealed. Hard molding paste and sawdust help to create an uneven surface that is then given a coat of gesso. She requires a completely white surface to begin painting, and often works on ten canvasses at once. Each one, she said, can take up to three weeks to complete. The result, Hollowell explained, "mimics skin or folds or hair."

In "From the Beginning," the mandorla in the center is mounded and heavily textured, like a plaster wall. It rests on a background of two circular forms, each painted with swirls of color in gradations of lilac to deep purple. The corresponding "sister" painting is rendered in shades of blue and green. It is interesting to note how the change in colors affects the eye's perception of the shapes.

Is sharing one's most intimate anatomy a little too revealing? "I struggle against wanting to share it all," laughed Hollowell. "The more abstract and open-ended a thing is, the more it is a conversation starter."

And there are other influences at work in her paintings. Hollowell, who grew up in Davis (her father is an art professor there) cited the "minimized, abstracted and completed manipulated landscape" she knew as a child. "I mean, the fields were laser-leveled!" she exclaimed. So her work is also about landscape and the way light reflects off of it, creating depth. The result, she said is a "layered experience, complicating the area between illusion and reality."

But what if the gallery visitor sees something completely different in her paintings?

"That's great! It is up to the viewer as to how they take it,"she replied, when asked how she felt about differing perceptions of her work. Hollowell sees herself as both an image maker and a storyteller. "Anyone doing a painting is offering a story -- you are putting that idea on a flat surface and it becomes a playful narrative."

Hollowell, who earned degrees in art from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Virginia Commonwealth University, acknowledged that her art, with its autobiographical themes of sexuality, owes a great debt to women artists who came before her. Both Georgia O'Keeffe and Judy Chicago employed female imagery in their work and were derided by critics because of it. Hollowell also cited female comediennes like Amy Schumer, who can now speak in candid and graphic terms about their sexuality, as trendsetters who have paved the way for her.

"It's amazing to be a woman in the arts right now," she said. "I can get away with anything because I am a woman."Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at nonnenberg@aol.com.

What: "Loie Hollowell: Point of Entry."

Where: Pace Gallery, 229 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.

When: Through Nov. 2, Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sun. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: Go to Pace Gallery.

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