Were he still alive, Freud would have had a field day analysing the work of Loie Hollowell, the young painter who’s been called a “Georgia O’Keeffe for the Instagram age”. While abstract, her canvases display overt figurative influences – saturated shapes mimic the forms of various body parts in the lower regions, whether it’s textured lips that protrude from the centre of a looping maze, or reproductive representations that radiate like colourful echoes from a pulsating centre.
Freud would have started by blaming the parents, of course, so that’s where we begin our story. Hollowell grew up in a liberal household, to a painter-professor father and a political-cartoonist mother, and she found herself in the studio from a very young age.
Hollowell’s first serious paintings were landscapes, scenes she saw around the house she grew up in, before she graduated to figurative works that got progressively more abstract and “cartoony” before losing their formal shape altogether.
From early on, the body was an integral part of her practice. “I was always painting figures of my family,” she says when I meet her before the opening of her exhibition at Pace Gallery in Hong Kong.”
It’s a direction that has been welcomed by gallerists and collectors alike. Hollowell put together her first major solo show in 2015 at 106 Green, an artist-run space in Brooklyn, and for her sophomore effort showed at the now-defunct but respectable Feuer/Mesler. By her third show, she had been picked up by big-league name Pace – the art-world equivalent of going from the flea market to selling at Harrods or Barneys, within a two-year time frame.
Her first exhibition with Pace opened in late September of 2017 and when Frieze London rolled around in October, she was the name on the tip of everyone’s tongues. The exhibition pieces sold out, not to mention the works Pace had shipped into the UK for the fair, within the first 40 minutes of the preview opening, reported Bloomberg.
“I do think that here, and in the States, there’s a very low representation of women in the major galleries, and I think that they should be always picking up more and more women. And older women, but also younger women who have proven themselves.”
Hollowell’s sales records have certainly done much to prove her worth. By March of this year, Pace was trotting out Hollowell’s work again, this time at its Hong Kong space and during the critical Art Basel period.
The show, titled Switchback, featured nine paintings accompanied by an equal number of pastels, showed purposefully in juxtaposition to expose the technical process. In the pieces, the anatomical references are still overt, and many works do exhibit a three-dimensionality that’s lost in images – lips protruding from the centre of “stacked lingams” – but they’re positioned to resemble mandalas, with an almost meditative quality.
There may be a Zen vibe to many of these works, but that isn’t always the starting point. “The first body of work I started, I’d just had an abortion. I was in my late twenties and that experience, emotionally and physically, was very contradictory. Emotionally I was really upset, because I didn’t like the person I was with, and he was very aggressive, but physically it was fine. But it was also just, like, I felt this release, and all the hormones started going away, and it just felt like an explosion of freedom, but then emotionally it was really tumultuous. So I made paintings about that experience.”
“It comes from a biographical place, but the experience I want you to have is a universal one. Like it doesn’t have to be my body, or my husband’s body. Like, the little triangular parts in these paintings in the show are little vaginas. They’re my vagina, but it doesn’t have to be my vagina. It doesn’t even have to be a vagina, really.”
Read the full story in Prestige Hong Kong August 2018 issue