Around the Galleries: Hollingsworth; Pankin; Ethier; Bankhead
It’s difficult, at first, to pinpoint just what makes a room full of Dennis Hollingsworth’s paintings so very intoxicating, but it surely has something to do with the smell of oil paint. Lots of it. Handfuls at a time, applied in dollops and smeared across the surface of the canvas, or slathered in sheets like glistening slices of prosciutto, or shaped into tight, prickly mounds resembling the shells of chestnuts.
The paint -- presumably dry, but only recently so -- fills the room with a lush, heady scent that seems to seep into one’s very pores, enveloping the viewer in the work’s exceptionally visceral presence.
The effect, though largely incidental, is a fitting prelude to the many more concerted seductions contained in Hollingsworth’s current exhibition at the Michael Kohn Gallery, his first in Los Angeles in five years. There are 13 paintings in the show, ranging from 20 by 16 inches to 9 feet across. Each sports luxurious, almost decadent (but never quite gaudy) quantities of pigment, manipulated with supreme confidence and skill.
The forms are abstract but made, in large part, from a limited range of specific gestures, each with its own sculptural identity: the push-and-smear, the palette-knife slather, the spiky daub, the loose swirl of multiple colors. Each composition has the feel of a self-contained ecosystem, with these gestures interacting like so many individual species, the whole governed by a sense of organic, if somewhat chaotic, logic.
The twists and turns of the pigment itself -- the glossy ridges, gouged furrows, smooth
planes and prickly briars -- are endlessly absorbing: liable to draw a viewer to within a foot
of the canvas and to tug the eye through a long series of close-range excursions, especially
in the case of the larger works. Step back, however, and it’s clear that these details acquire
their power from a formidable structural integrity.
The spontaneous clusters of small blots that hold one’s attention in the short term cleave
barnacle-like to slower, heavier forms that keep the compositions firmly grounded. Seemingly
decorative details are swept up in grander architectural gestures. Patches of dense,
frenetic activity open up to broad swaths of negative space that lend each composition the
balance and stability of a landscape.
Los Angeles has an unfortunate history of neglecting its midcareer artists, whether by ignoringthem altogether in the glare of each year’s graduating class or by failing to provide
the opportunities (and respect) they receive from institutions in Europe and elsewhere. As
a result, entire generations of L.A. art are going unseen on their home turf, the influence of
these artists under-acknowledged except by their students and peers. This exhibition -- only
the seventh of Hollingsworth’s 35 solo shows to be held in L.A. -- is a prime example of
what the city stands to lose in such a bargain: artists of proven commitment and consummate
skill, whose work shapes the identity of L.A. art for much of the rest of the world.
By Holly Myers