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Accumulations, paintings by William Holton and God and Dog: the Sublime in the Mundane, paintings by Kathy Holland and Emily Taylor

Tomato Head Restaurant, Market Square, and the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 2931 Kingston Pike. Call 523-4176 for hours.

Through June 1 and June 29, respectively

The Stuff of Three Lives

Vision and Accumulations are ours in concurrent exhibits

by Heather Joyner

In the beginning, there was the stuff. Then Marcel Duchamp was born 114 years ago, and there was the stuff that questioned and mocked the previous stuff. In the '90's there was the stuff that canonized the work of individuals like Duchamp (Sherrie Levine's cast bronze urinal titled "Buddha," for instance). Simultaneously, there was stuff that dismissed paying homage to anyone or anything. So, what kind of painting is "now" now? Frankly, I get tired of trying to fit art into a context despite being conditioned to do so. Sometimes I want to let the art and myself just be. I pretend I'm from outer space and simply take it in.

Current exhibitors at the Tomato Head (William Holton) and at the Unitarian Church (Kathy Holland and Emily Taylor) each answer the above "now" question in their own way—trite as that may sound. Their drawings and paintings settle into inherent sensibilities and indulge various private obsessions, but not without self-awareness. Garbled or lazy these works are not. At the very least, Holton's exactitude and colors are stunning. Taylor's use of color is dazzling as well, and Holland's precision is impressive. If I must assert what various pieces recently sprung from the ether and now on display are "doing" or what they mean, I'll begin by saying that they are indeed doing something.

Abstraction in art seems problematic for many people. Beyond being afraid that they're not "getting" whatever a painting is setting forth, they perhaps fear arriving home from a museum or gallery and having to describe what they've observed ("Well, Honey...they weren't landscapes or pictures of bowls of fruit, but I was thrilled by their structural integrity and metaphysical components"). Then there are those who want their abstraction to be expressionistic rather than philosophical. After all, abstraction that's not self-referential can be quite chilly. Holton, however, proves that it doesn't have to be. And Holland and Taylor don't hesitate to paint "real things" in a semi-abstract manner. Figurative or not, the work is certainly sensuous and captivating. Having presumably freed themselves from the pressures of perpetual innovation, Holland, Holton, and Taylor are dancing with their socks off.

In Holton's canvases, painting meets what feels like an expression of its own biology; what we see appears to exist on a fundamental, cellular level. And the mystery of how we see and process what we're looking at is part of that science. Works by artist Ross Bleckner have been described as "places where countless different meanings cross and enter into relationship with one another." Like Bleckner, Holton has found in each of his paintings a "place," albeit without the ordinary trappings. That place is more a triggered state of mind delighting in texture and the way colors rub up against each other and how much space things occupy. "Orchard" might be reminiscent of an ancient mosaic crowded with grapes; "Fruition" might resemble gleaming caviar; "Pith" might remind us of planetary nebulae in a deep night sky. Whatever we perceive, it's pure painting at its stripped-down best.

Speaking of nebulae, Holland presents numerous wax crayon drawings that at first glance look like black and white NASA photographs. Quoting Schopenhauer in her artist's statement, she says, "Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world." But Holland takes care to expand her perspective. Bearing titles such as "Spiral Galaxy #4," her pieces are diminutive representations of impossible vastness. This switch—in which stars and phenomena like tornadoes become somehow intimate—is remarkable. Both "Earth #1" and "Earth #2" present a hairy little Earth that—bristling within the void—reflects its human occupants. Unfortunately, "Tornado #3" seems terribly hemmed into its frame. With broader strokes and vibrant hues, it aches for larger scale.

Taylor's paintings are intimate in another sense. Including people, dogs, and fruit, they hum with intense color and feature what I'll dare to call domestic subject matter; what the artist believes suggests "the extraordinary nature of daily life." Personal in a refreshing, non-sentimental way, Taylor's work is straightforward yet intriguing. Her "First Melon" has a brilliant paint drip that refers to both juice and the act of painting itself. Its center (about as sexual as it gets) is spontaneously but solidly rendered. As viewers, we get the sense that there's a story lurking behind the story we're being told. Whether or not we read its title, the image of a spindly pin amidst slick blue pigment (called "Grief") feels infinitely sad. We're unlikely to hear such a thing drop, let alone care.

We do not know the man pictured in "Portrait of my Father, Clyde Taylor" and "Generations, Regeneration," but looking out of the paintings as he does, he knows us. His clothing has a presence linked via color to his very flesh, mimicking the "material" reality of the body. Aware that Taylor's show is dedicated to the memory of her father, I have no doubt been aided in my interpretation—so be it. Whatever the case, her works project a love of living and seeing. She says, "A good painting reminds you to see, reminds you that there's always more to see." Through the above artists, we are permitted that gift.

May 17, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 20
© 2001 Metro Pulse