A conversation with painting alumna Loie Hollowell

From September 14 to October 19, Pace Gallery in New York is hosting a solo exhibition by painting and printmaking alumna Loie Hollowell (MFA ’12). Hollowell’s autobiographical work investigates the formal and intersectional qualities of the human body, arranged on canvas in abstract compositions that utilize careful geometry, gradient colors and symmetry. She was recently profiled by ArtNet, who noted her rising popularity in the city’s art market.

Hollowell’s fall show, titled “Plumb Line,” will be her first at Pace’s Manhattan location, and the inaugural event at the gallery’s new headquarters on West 25th Street.

In anticipation of her new exhibition, VCUarts reached out to the artist to learn more about her studio practice.

Your exhibition in September will include a collection of new paintings. Which pieces will you be introducing, and how do they differ or complement your previous work?

The series of paintings in my September show is the direct product of concepts I was exploring in a group of paintings that were exhibited in London last year. The preceding work was about implantation and conception. With the paintings in the New York show, I’ve made it through to the other side; I’m now a mother. This new work is about being pregnant, giving birth, and postpartum experiences like lactating and urinary incontinence. In contrast to the preceding works, my full body is framed within the canvas, meeting the painting’s edge vertically, horizontally, or both.

In these paintings I break my body into five elements: head, breasts, pregnant belly, vagina and butt. These elements are situated on a vertical or horizontal stream of light. The light stream acts as a spine in the vertically oriented compositions. When placed horizontally it’s a seat, shelf or bed from which my butt hangs and torso is supported. Throughout the pregnancy and postpartum it felt as if my body was breaking down and being rearranged, which in a way it was. Therefore, in these paintings my body is bisected, dissected, and treated as modular shapes to be reconfigured along the vertical and horizontal axis. In these paintings the color of my body parts indicate how I felt at the time, which is also documented by the configuration of shapes.

As an artist, what ideas (aesthetic, cultural, or otherwise) have you been interested in lately, and how have they manifested in your new paintings?

For the past few years I’ve been obsessed with the Neo Tantric art movement that came out of India in the 1960s and 1970s. One of my favorite Neo Tantric painters is G.R. Santosh. His paintings are wildly colorful with earthy and saturated hues. He embraced the conventions of Western modernist image making with the geometric language of Tantra meditation tools. He broke down the human figure into elemental shapes, symbols and colors and situated it within the frame of the picture. His work inspires my own in all these ways.

Left to right: “Red hole” (2019), 72″ x 54″ x 3-1/2″, oil, acrylic medium, and high density foam on linen over panel. “Birthing in red” (2018), 72″ x 54″ x 3-1/2″, oil, acrylic medium, sawdust, and high density foam on linen over panel. Images courtesy of Pace Gallery.

There is a tradition of modern and contemporary painters who look to the human body and its relationship to the earth for inspiration. Where do you think your place is in this tradition?

It seems to me that the flowers [Georgia O’Keeffe] planted and then painted in her upstate New York garden and the mountains that surrounded her house in New Mexico, along with that house itself, were all extensions of mind and body. My place in this tradition is that I have no grand or spiritual overarching ideas that guide my images. I’m simply making abstractions of mine and my husband’s body, abstractions of acts or poses I see in the mirror every day.

How did you come to be represented by Pace Gallery?

I was in a group show three years ago at Ballroom Marfa in Texas. One of the owners of Ballroom and organizers of that show was Fairfax Dorn. She is a true visionary and has done a lot of work to help the careers of young artists like myself. I flew out there for the opening of the show and did a gallery talk about my work. Marc Glimcher, the owner of Pace (also Fairfax’s husband) liked what I was saying. Over the course of that visit, and after a few studio visits, he came to really understand my work. I had a show organized by Lauren Marinaro coming up at Feuer/Mesler Gallery and after the show ended, Marc offered me representation at Pace.

What advice do you have for aspiring professional painters?

I have very simple advice. Always be drawing. Draw, draw, draw. When I moved to New York and had no money, no time and no space, I drew in my sketchbook every day. Whenever I’m lost in a painting, I make a drawing to work out the problem. When I’m lost in life or with what to pursue next in my work, I turn to my sketchbook. Drawing will get you back on track.

Learn more about Loie Hollowell at Pace Gallery.

Lead image by Melissa Goodwin, courtesy Pace Gallery.