Hadley Holliday: One with the Sun: New Paintings, Carl Solway Gallery

by Karen Chambers


The work of L. A. artist Hadley Holliday is nothing if not complicated although that might not be immediately apparent as her colorful stained canvas paintings are delightful.

What she’s achieved is not far from Matisse’s articulated goal:

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art, which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.

In addition to this affinity, she has borrowed or alluded to a compendium of 20th century artists and styles: the Suprematism of Kasimir Malevich; the Futurism of Giacomo Balla; the Orphism of Sonia Delaunay; Color Field painters or Lyrical Abstractionists Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland; P&D—Pattern and Decoration–painters such as Valerie Jaudon, Joyce Kozloff, Mary Grigoriadis, and Kim MacConnel; and any number of watercolorists although Holliday uses acrylic paint.

There also hints of Indonesian batik fabrics, medieval stained glass windows, and Russian icons.

I hate to start with technique but Carl Solway Associate Director Anita Douthat volunteers that that is the first thing many people ask. So let me get that out of the way, using Holliday’s own words:

For the process I start with a line drawing on the canvas of the overall pattern. I use chalk, so the lines will disappear by the time painting is finished. I work on the canvases flat on a big table. There is no masking, rather I work in sections, pouring the paint or working wet on wet. I frequently paint a section with water first, and then pour into that wet area, so each section is a puddle of paint contained by surface tension. The floors in my studio are not level, so the paint frequently flows from one section to the next. The process is kind of a dance between control and loss of control. I paint into the “cracks” last, which brings the whole composition into focus. The silver and gold leaf are added along the way.

The majority of the works on view are from 2012 although there is one from 2011 and, remarkably, four from 2013. This University of Kansas (B. F. A., 1993, and M. A., 1997) and Cal Arts (M. F. A., 2004) grad is one industrious woman.

Although dated 2012, three paintings (all 30” square) are part of an ongoing series of poured squares, which Holliday began in 2006. Her aim was to pour a square, which she readily acknowledges was “an absurd idea as puddles don’t have angles or straight lines.” She was thinking about Malevich and had been “fascinated by the imperfections and brushstrokes that are visible in his work when seen in person.”

Two of the Russian Suprematist’s most iconic works are Black Square, 1915, a large black square floating in the middle of the white canvas, and Suprematist Composition: White on White, a white square on a white ground, balanced on its lower right corner. Holliday gives us Poured Square in homage to the first, and two paintings entitled Icon with the off-kilter square.

The evidence of Malevich’s hand in his reductivist paintings makes an odd contrast to Holliday’s more painterly compositions where she pours the thinned acrylic paint, almost like watercolor, to stain the raw canvas, but leaves no personal mark.

Of course, the technique recalls the stained canvases of the Color Field or Lyrical Abstractionists (this is not the place to delve into their subtle differences) mentioned above.

In her gallery statement, Holliday draws attention to her use of gold leaf in these dark, rather romantic paintings. She makes the point that it is metallic leaf applied with adhesive not metallic paint, a distinction that is not apparent. All of this—the titles, dark palette, and gold—makes the comparison to Russian devotional icons plausible.

But it’s the other works on view that interest me most. In composing them, Holliday starts with a small circle, roughly centered at the top of the canvas, and extends the pattern outward, arcing toward a horizon line at the bottom. The resulting compositions can suggest domes (especially Blissed Out, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 66” x 60”) or the rings of theater seats (Untitled [4]. 2013, acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 20” x 18”).

Holliday describes the kaleidoscopic radiating circles as “ecstatic, expanding, and spatial,” in contrast to the meditative squares “contained within the frame.”

As posited above, there are many parallels to be drawn between 20th-century art and her own. There’s a touch of the dynamism of Futurism in two paintings–Untitled (1) from 2013, acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 20” x 18”, and Blissed Out–Giacomo Balla with his fracturing of space to represent movement and speed comes to mind.

And, no doubt because of the color of these two paintings–indigo from denim to inky blue—and the repetitive patterning, they recall Javanese batik.

I see a similar connection between her paintings with their allusions to art movements and fabric design in several other paintings. Fire Season, 2012, particularly reminded me of Sonia Delaunay, the co-founder with her husband Robert of the Orphism school of painting that is distinguished by its use of strong color and geometric shapes. Sonia came to mind first because of her frequent use of the circle but also because of her work in fashion and fabric design.

Fire Season with its concentric bands of circles of sheer color also evoked rose windows in Gothic cathedrals or, at least, one sliced in half. Even though Holliday does not outline her shapes, as stained glass would be with leading, each area is distinct. The stunning colors—pinks, oranges, yellows, blues, and even the drabber taupes and smokey grays—are radiant, as if light were streaming through colored glass.

With these connections to the decorative arts, I found it interesting that Holliday sees a “ tumultuous relationship between abstraction and decorative art” in her painting.

It seems an odd statement. There is no lack of abstraction in the decorative arts. Let me just throw out a few examples: Islamic and Moorish art, illuminated Celtic manuscripts, Mimbres pottery, Navajo rugs, Malian mud cloths, Amish quilts, and so on.

And on the fine-art side of the ledger, P&D painters found no conflict between the decorative and the abstract. Think of Valerie Jaudon’s hard-edged compositions that might be stylized Arabic calligraphy; Joyce Kozloff’s “Moorish” tiles (Arabesque, a wall of tiles was installed at the Contemporary Arts Center in 1978); Mary Grigoriadis’s abstractions inspired by Native American, Islamic, and Byzantine art; or Kim MacConnel’s hard-edged geometric abstractions.

When “decorative” is used as a pejorative—I believe unfairly–I take it to mean lacking content and pleasing to the eye. A purely retinal experience. Eye candy. Holliday’s paintings are pleasing visually but there’s a lot more to see, more than meets the eye. And, like Matisse, she offers a comfy armchair from which to view them.


Karen S. Chambers


“Hadley Holliday: One with the Sun: New Paintings,” on view through March 23, 2013, at Carl Solway Gallery, 424 Findlay St., Cincinnati, OH  45214. 513-621-0069, www.solwaygallery.com. Mon.-Fri., 9 a. m.-5 p. m., Sat., noon-5 p. m.















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