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Loie Hollowell: Unveiling the Essence

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Who is Loie Hollowell?

American artist Loie Hollowell creates multi-dimensional paintings that exist in a category somewhere between representation and abstraction. With geometrical forms often in symmetrical balance with strong colors, Loie Hollowell’s paintings are sensual and sexual, using high density foam to create sculptural relief elements that evoke human genitalia.

Early Years and Education – Childhood in Woodland

Born in Woodland, California in 1983, Loie Hollowell spoke of her upbringing in a 2020 interview in Garage magazine: “[My parents] had a very open parenting style — I ran around making mud paintings. There’s a lot of mud out there in the farmland of Woodland, California!” Loie Hollowell’s father, who had studied at the graduate level at Yale under William Bailey, taught drawing and painting at the University of California Davis. Her mother is a seamstress and a cartoonist. Loie Hollowell stated, as to her painter-father, “It was hard, growing up, trying to find my point of view — a feminist voice to which he could relate.”

Education and Training – UC Santa Barbara and Virginia Commonwealth University

Loie Hollowell attended the College of Creative Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. The program allowed its students to “take advanced art classes or science classes — whatever you wanted”. In her senior year, Loie Hollowell began painting, and has said: “That’s when my conversations with my dad about painting started to become fruitful.”

She told Vogue recently: “I went in [to UC Santa Barbara] as a sculptor, and I made sculptural, performative dresses that I would wear, and have people, like, get under and dance around.”

After receiving her BFA from UC Santa Barbara, Hollowell went on to receive an MFA in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, graduating in 2012. Prior to graduating, Hollowell exhibited in group shows in both Brooklyn and Washington D.C.

In a 2011 profile during her course of graduate work, Hollowell said: “Whether I am painting or sculpting, the manipulation of fabric is my primary interest. I apply black ink to wet white denim fabric in an assortment of ways to create my desired effect. I enjoy the optical play that occurs between stark contrasts of black and white. Conversely, in other work, I focus on the ethereal qualities in subtle transitions of gray. Some of my pieces incorporate blue and green ink because scientific studies have concluded that these colors have the most calming effect on us.”

Move to New York City and Developing Style

Once she moved to New York City after graduate school, Loie Hollowell’s rise was swift and steady. The first stroke of fortune was described in a 2017 piece in Cultured: “”when the 34- year-old Northern California native ran into one of her former visiting professors (the painter

Ridley Howard) in Chelsea one sunny day, she didn’t think much of it. But that chance meeting led to a studio visit, which led to a show at Howard’s Brooklyn-based gallery….”

Her first show was in the artist-run exhibition space AHHA in 2015, and received — from the first paragraph — something of a dream review from critic Martha Schwendener in The New York Times: “The next time you see Love Hollowell’s paintings it will probably not be in a small, artist-run gallery in someone’s apartment that is open only on Sundays or by appointment, which is the case with this show. Ms. Hollowell is a gifted painter, and her work could easily reach larger audiences soon.”

Judy Chicago and Hilma af Klint: Influential Predecessors

Schwendener continued: “…Ms. Hollowell has painted and sponged geometric shapes and Gestalt-type images that give the illusion of expanding and contracting, merging and converging….The vortex designs also recall popular 1970s art, from Judy Chicago’s paintings to the album cover for Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”….She is trying to create her own lexicon of forms. The almond shapes in her paintings, which hark back to the Italian mandorla in religious paintings, represent the vagina; wavy ogee shapes, drawn from Gothic and Islamic architecture, signify female breasts.”

“Countering the myth of “pure” abstraction, Ms. Hollowell steps into the historical lineage of painters like O’Keefe and Ms. Chicago, who were often discounted or derided for making references to the body in their abstract work. (The Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint might be another progenitor.)”

“Ms. Hollowell’s sleight-of-hand abstraction arrives at an important moment, when so-called feminist imagery has been eclipsed by transgender and post gender arguments, and the celebrated “return of the figure” in painting feels like a remedial rejoinder, Ms. Hollowell offers a third option.”

One would have to call it an auspicious New York City debut, to say the least!

Feuer/Mesler “Mother Tongue” 2016

A year after Schwendener’s bold prediction, Hollowell would have her first major show across the river in Manhattan. In another formative review in Artforum, reviewer Genevieve Allison wrote: “[Hollowell’s] unflinchingly direct paintings sublimate aspects of the female experience in compositions that are both landscapes and anatomical abstractions, echoing a long tradition of feminist painters who claimed the female body for their gender’s own demesne. Synthesizing Judy Chicago’s hard-edge symbolism, Hilma af Klint’s diagrammatic visual language, and Georgia O’Keefe’s sense of the iconographic, the fourteen paintings presented in Hollowell’s first exhibition here are powerfully referential of her forbears.”

Using High-Density Foam to Create Abstraction

“Inspired by tantric painting and other esoteric styles, Loie Hollowell’s luminous, tonal delicacies set up formal contrasts between figure and ground, flatness and depth, fallowness and fecundity. Her surprising use of relief, created with sawdust and foam, adds an unexpected textural quality to her smooth handling of acrylic….”

International Recognition of Her Work

Loie Hollowell joined the prestigious Pace Gallery in January of 2017. Her first exhibition with the gallery was at their newly established Palo Alto location. She had arrived on the world stage.

In the October 2017 Brooklyn Rail segment “ArtSeen”, Hearne Pardee wrote: “In her impressive debut exhibition at Pace Gallery’s recently opened space in Palo Alto, Loie Hollowell compresses powerful, evocative images into highly crafted objects….Much as [Georgia] O’Keefe came to apply tight, photographic rendering to the sublime emptiness of early, free flowing watercolors like Light Coming on the Plains (1917), Hollowell brings high contrast resolution to her cleanly fabricated forms, using dramatic variations in dark and light to emphasize surface curvature and suggest deep space. By adding relief to her surfaces, Hollowell takes this process of objectification still further.”

“But the appeal of the work rests not so much in its sturdy construction as in its powerful imagery. Where O’Keefe always denied any sexual reference to her vaginal forms, Hollowell is totally frank about the body parts and orifices she depicts.”

“Dominant/Recessive” Pace Gallery London Solo Debut 2017

Loie Hollowell made her London solo exhibition debut at Pace Gallery with a show entitled “Dominant/Recessive”.

Strong Colors, Personal Experiences, and Bodily Abstractions Reach a New Level

In her review of the London show, Art Historian and critic Flora Vesterberg wrote: “A contemporary Georgia O’Keefe with a twist of twenty-first century humor and liberation, Loie Hollowell’s intensely-coloured and graphic works comment on the female form and sexuality….Hollowell is in the process of conceiving a child, and the theme of procreation penetrates the exhibition – vaginal and phallic symbolism [are] prevalent throughout…. 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 colors….The works are pulsating with sexuality, capturing the very moments of sexual pleasure and intimacy at its most basic, but most intense….Hollowell’s work evokes an overarching theme of sensuality and primal female power, something which should indeed be celebrated.”

Victoria Miro, London “Surface Work” (Group Show) 2018

Several months after her Pace show, Hollowell participated in a group show at the Victoria Miro gallery in London. The exhibition, entitled “Surface Work”, was described by the gallery as an “international, cross-generational exhibition of women artists who have shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expand, the language of abstract painting.”

“One Opening Leads to Another” GRIMM Gallery Amsterdam

In November of 2019, Loie Hollowell presented a solo show entitled “One Opening Leads to Another”. Sasha Bogojev wrote of the exhibit in the online journal Juxtapose: “In her debut at GRIMM Gallery during the Amsterdam Art Weekend, Loie Hollowell takes us through the birth canal for her debut solo showcase One Opening Leads to Another, at their Keisergracht location. In eight pieces, the artist delivers the experience of childbearing in harmonious abstract compositions built from delicately textured geometric shapes….One Opening Leads to Another follows with focusing the experience of giving birth. Previously using a vibrant and joyful palette to capture feelings of hopeful excitement while carrying a new life within, the artist uses more earthy, gutsier tones for the new body of work that travels through various stages of nativity….Basking in that peculiar Dutch light wafting through the large gallery windows, the paintings glow and the process of awakening begins.”

“Plumb Line” Pace Gallery New York 2019

In her return to New York exhibition, her first “major solo New York show”, Hollowell presented “Plumb Line” at Pace. Marley Marius covered the exhibition for Vogue: “…On her intricately layered canvases — built up into three dimensions, in some areas, using a mixture of sawdust and high-density foam — expressions of the agony and ecstasy of being a woman beget a delightfully complex viewing experience….Pulsating with geometric forms in shades of orange, teal, eggplant, red and green, Hollowell’s compositions announce themselves as intriguing formal exercises — extended meditations on shape, symmetry, and juxtapositions of hue — only later revealing their shared preoccupation with the human body….[T]he pieces on display at Pace are heavily informed by the birth of Hollowell’s son nine months ago. ‘I started the studies for them in 2007’, [Hollowell] says, when she was just beginning to figure out how to break up her figure within a frame. ‘But I wasn’t thinking of them as pregnancy paintings. I added elements of the pregnancy later.’”

“Recalibrate” Long Museum West Bund – Shanghai, China

In Loie Hollowell’s solo exhibition debut in China, she basically re-packaged the “Plumb Line” show’s works. Writing for Ocula, Hutch Wilco produced what has become rare for the rising art star — negative criticism: “Panel after panel of identical constructions with subtle variations of color… conjure notions of the transcendental for the Ikea Age: Buddha for the bathroom….One gets the feeling that despite the strictly formal descriptions applied to Hollowell’s work by gallery representatives and critics alike, that the mass manufacturing of yoni-abstraction for the Goop set is as much a consideration as autobiography or formal experimentation.”

“Going Soft” Pace Online Exhibition 2020

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Loie Hollowell presented an online show via Pace Gallery entitled “Going Soft”. Writing for Whitewall, Katy Donaghue’s coverage included an interview with the artist. She wrote: “The show of new work included striking representations of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum….”Going Soft” is a stark contrast to Hollowell’s 2019 show “Plumb Line”. While those paintings also explored the human form, they were comprised of clean lines, perfect shapes, sacred geometries, and symmetry. In this series, she’s loosened up, just as the body does in pregnancy and after.”

Hollowell stated: “Going Soft” came about during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of lockdown in the spring, I was so close to giving birth to my second child, I had to adapt my studio practice to a room in my house. I couldn’t exactly paint six-foot canvasses in oil at home so I decided to concentrate on drawings. Because I was so close to my due date, and because the general anxiety and stress I felt about the world at large was added to the fear of giving birth once again, my work started to take a different turn. My figures became more blobby, more organic, and my colors darkened and took on more earthy, bodily tones. The drawings created for “Going Soft” served as chapters to my ever-changing mental state leading up to and following the birth of my second child. Each drawing helped me sort through the chaotic energy, both externally and internally and enabled me to experiment more loosely with my style and process….For this most recent series of drawings, I loosened up quite a bit and decided to work more intuitively and improvisational, allowing myself to explore new compositions and themes in my work. Because I had to work at home for so long, that also had a big impact on my practice. I was unable to have continuous long creative stints, with my youngest constantly in need of attention and the general chaos of the household around me. I had to embrace it and work sporadically, which resulted in spontaneous moments and changes in my work.”


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