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tom moody


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Dennis Hollingsworth's paintings have been mentioned here a few times. What follows is an attempt to describe the work and answer some criticisms of it.

Let's start by saying what it definitely isn't:

"just about paint"

That's like saying that The Rite of Spring is just about musical notes. If you think the canvases are some dull, said-a-million-times statement about materiality, as some commenters have suggested, please look again and remember that the whorls, blobs, and explosions are not mere accidents but also a record of events shaped by a human consciousness. Not a vision of an animate cosmos as literal as, say, Blake's, but still a teeming universe of suggestive contours and textures, thwarting powers of speech--a morphed mashup of animals, ghosts, genetic mutations, war wounds, and impossibly tangled plant life, at least in this viewer's art-prompted reckoning.

One could say in '80s jargon that his thick paint is a hyperrealized version of past expressionist art--a Baudrillard term meaning roughly "on steroids." But to call it pornographic, as one commenter did, rather ignores the joyful, non-synthetic element. The artist says the work is an "affirmation of paint" after the negation of the post-Modern years. But does that make it Modernist? If so, it's closer to surreal, abject side of Modernism that Clement Greenberg and other 20th Century critics tried to edit out of history. The colors may be joyful, but the sea urchin-like blobs that cling to everything seem vaguely alien and parasitic. The intricate cutting and slicing of organic forms suggests an anatomist's inner burrowing.

And lastly you have the linguistic side of Hollingsworth's work--a hermetic system of recurring elements (which have names--see Scott Speh's review) that serve as a private lexicon in a state of perpetual breakdown and reshuffling. This recombinant practice hews closer to postmodernism than the Modernism that forever proclaimed its abstract vocabularies as new and scientifically derived. Hollingsworth's work is aware of nonrepresentational conventions and builds on the limited vocabularies of Peter Halley, Jonathan Lasker, et al, who in turn built on the Abstract Expressionists. Yet ultimately his fearlessness to engage in actual, dense, convoluted, expressionistic (or expression-like) paint handling gives him a richer and more varied range of iconography than those predecessor "deconstructors."

Update: Revised in Feb. 2009.

- tom moody 8-02-2006 12:25 am [link]