In Transfixing Work, Loie Hollowell Derives Artful Abstraction From Childrearing

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When Loie Hollowell and I first start discussing her mesmerizing work, which combines the gestures of great feminist artists with the luminous, inherent sexuality of Neo-Tantric painters, I can almost feel her blushing through the telephone. “I call my abstract paintings ‘Linked Lingams,’” says the California-raised, New York–based artist, 40. She describes her visual vocabulary with a nervous laugh, noting the almond-shaped “mandorla” or “yoni,” symbolizing the vagina, and the tubular “lingam,” representing the penis.

Before I know it, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of water births and breastfeeding. It’s easy to imagine Hollowell as the friend you go to for no-detail-spared “real talk.” Even woman to woman, much of our chat—and of Hollowell’s œuvre—still feels taboo (hence, her initial demureness). Nevertheless, during her meteoric rise, which included joining Pace’s roster in 2017 (two years after her first solo show) and witnessing her paintings sell for seven-figure sums at auction in recent years, the artist has worked to tackle certain sexual and bodily stigmas.

“Loie is using her body as a lens to talk about larger seismic issues around female sexuality, feminism, motherhood, and reproduction rights,” says Amy Smith-Stewart, chief curator at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The curator first met Hollowell while co-organizing 2022’s “52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone,” which honored the Aldrich’s groundbreaking 1971 show “Twenty Six Contemporary Women Artists.” In its reincarnation, the exhibition paired the original 26 women with 26 of today’s female-identifying or nonbinary emerging artists, including Hollowell. “What Loie is doing, and what a lot of early feminists did, is share their personal stories as a way to counter this very monolithic art canon that would not allow those voices in,” Smith-Stewart says.

This January, the Aldrich opened “Loie Hollowell: Space Between, A Survey of Ten Years” (on through August 11), the artist’s first museum survey. Spanning the entirety of the institution’s first floor, the show charts Hollowell’s conceptual and material evolution from her early drawings to her latest paintings, incorporating life casts of pregnant breasts and bellies. Smith-Stewart is especially fascinated with how Hollowell treats the idea of time: “Loie is turning the body into a metaphorical hourglass by showing the way the pregnant body expands and contracts, whether it’s imagery depicting the dilation of the cervix or the letting down of lactating breasts.”

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Jose Reber

Jose Reber is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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