Andrew Holmquist: Ecstatic Time
Five Car Garage, Santa Monica
THROUGH mARCH 19, 2022
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Paintings by Andrew Holmquist announce themselves like bugle calls, like reveille, in prismatic explosions of palette, wonky spatial tectonics, and operatic brushwork that radiates at a distance and reveals on approach neverending universes of detail within. The scenes and vistas, still lifes, tableaux, and intimate portraiture all reflect the same affinity for the lushness of nature — follies of atmosphere and perspective, the feral and fecund perfect disorder of the California landscape, the zigzag zen interventions of architecture into our visions, and the jumble of domestic spaces where queer aesthetes cultivate spaces of joy and desire.
An expert at not only sublime color theory, but also at leading the eye through the composition like an endless game of Snakes & Ladders, Holmquist shreds and weaves color blocks like tapestries. But despite the self-possession of his brushwork, he never cedes to abstraction — every fiber of pink shag carpet, every shade of succulent blade, every freckle of hot-tinted sunlight, every pinky toe and far-off tower, every delicate saucer in the dishwasher, long purple evening shadow, the jagged rooflines catching the last rays of orange magic hour light, every pail tossed under the back stairs, every little thing remains in every aspect itself and has a part to play in the fragmented cinema chronicling Holmquist’s life.
Holmquist’s work is in important ways, quite personal. The locations are his own home, studio, views; the figures are his close friends, colleagues, lovers; the books and other visual quotations nod to his heroes and influences — it’s a story. But his relationships with art history are every bit as personal, narrative and intentional. Feel free to think of early Kandinsky and the rolling hills, cotton clouds and eccentric trees he made circa 1910, on his headlong journey toward abstraction. Consider too the hyped-up color onslaught of the Fauves, who were most active as a group around 1905 as well; Matisse in particular sowing oats in his brief but ineffable wild beast phase. A little bit of Alice Neel in the way the portraits are both heartfelt, empathetic and unconcerned with prettiness, and favor houseplants as props.
Hockney is present too of course, and not just the pink of certain cement or the specificity of the regional climate, but in the simultaneously dense and sketchy treatment of foliage and smugly perfect light, all way from his iconic “Mulholland Drive, Road to the Studio” (1980) to even — especially? — his almost Baroque Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 iPad drawings. Hockney’s use of composited visions to elaborate space also informs how Holmquist organizes the spaces in his works -— notably the parabolic window in the epic work “Utopia” (2022, oil on canvas, 96 x 72 inches) which acts as both a frame and a barrier, dividing and linking indoor and outdoor spaces, catching and reflecting the molten sunset over the horizon, and perceptible only because Holmquist dirtied it with drips that “catch” the light and interfere with the seamless continuum of the space. A detail from real life that once noticed, is further put to work within the engineering of the picture.
That dynamic is at work again in “Great Anonymous Sex” (2022, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches) in which the liquid light of sun splotches on an open book both anchor the vertical space at its ground and call attention to the lowkey presence of the painter (or at least his legs), and whose pov is offered to the audience as we are invited to view the expanse of receding hillside and majesty of a sacred yellow-leafed tree as though we were sharing his hammock. Bottom to top: pink legs, red settee, orange garden, lavender house, pink pavement, greenery, lavender again for the sky, a muted orange and to the right, and always the sweeping swathes of flickering buttercup foliage that will not relinquish its hold on the eye.
Holmquist’s portraits and self-portraits are sweet and loosely rendered impressions of presence, like a guest book of memories, and are often in dialogue with one another. In “Omar Blake Mitchell, my Studio” (2022, Oil on canvas over panel, 15 x 12.5 inches) the sitter is seen reading his own book, a copy of which appears in the shelves in “Utopia” and in “Zach Stafford, my Studio” (2022, oil on canvas, 12.5 x 15 inches) the sitter was in the room watching Holmquist paint “Utopia” and in between layers and passes the artist turned around and painted his friend. Other scenes in bedrooms and bathrooms present a casual intimacy with the male nude that also references art historical tropes, in a firm but gentle supplantation of the female body as the default of desire.
Despite the power and appeal of the narrative and autobiographical themes in the work, the depopulated landscape of “Elysian Park 4” (2022, oil on canvas, 50x 60 inches) is a true masterpiece of the exhibition. A symphony of impossible gem tones, a whole ecosystem of biodiversity, a syncopated rhythm of exaggerated topography whose compressed and expanded reach runs all the way to a distant city skyline — these and other clues make it both an archetype of far-off kingdoms and an ode to the uniqueness of Los Angeles. Shades of green delineate individual plants and trees — and the places where light falls on them — from an impressionistic mass that’s really just about paint, that’s as far from realism as can be, and yet is an undeniably accurate depiction of its place. This place. It’s beautiful here.