People who dislike contemporary art often take issue with its aloofness. A lot of it does seem unfriendly and uncompromising—unwilling to take a step in the viewer’s direction for the sake of starting a conversation. Andrew Holmquist’s work, on the other hand, is friendly as hell. For that matter, he is too, exuding a polite silliness about him that rubs off on everything he makes. He’s generous with his theories and techniques as long as you can follow his impossibly quick speech. In his work, he encourages what he calls an “easier empathy” in viewers by referring to tangible objects from the real world, which he calls “entry points,” despite an overall commitment to abstraction in his compositions. And what things are more tangible to us than our own bodies?
Holmquist describes one of his favorite paintings, “Excavation” by Willem de Kooning, as a work that “repels and attracts and refuses to settle down.” Inspired by this quality, as well as Max Beckmann’s claustrophobic canvases and Kitagawa Utamaro’s entangled figures, Holmquist’s paintings, sculptures and videos squirm with figures packed in space. With clever swoops of paint, Holmquist demonstrates mass and movement, incorporating his own body’s gesture of moving a brush across a surface.
His newest works—recently exhibited in a solo show at Carrie Secrist Gallery, which represents him—feature obliquely pictured people gathered in locker rooms, descending staircases, stretching poolside, maybe fooling around a bit. Extremities jut out of twisting forms like the dust clouds engulfing brawls in old cartoons. An outstretched palm, the hint of a tube sock. These are sexy situations made sexier by insinuation rather than high definition and with poppy color combos that would speed the pulse of any warm-blooded body.
Holmquist hunts for killer compositions, informed by his experience as a human, an astute media consumer and an image-maker, taking notice when the perfect pose is struck. In the studio and on the road, Holmquist keeps a respectable sketchbook, wherein he translates those scenarios onto paper, erasing, tracing and arranging, eventually coming to a perfectly formed and deliriously busy composition of bold, curving shapes. Palettes are tweaked in Photoshop and hashed out in lovely, hand-sized maquettes on panels before he transcribes them onto large canvases.
“To make art is an opportunity to get to know yourself and look at the world in a deeper way than the passing day to day often allows. It’s a pause button.” Good art, according to Holmquist, strikes the perfect balance of choreography and spontaneity—deliberately planned but allowing for an overhaul along the way if it feels right, which is a pretty good attitude to have in just about any scenario. So far, it’s working for him. (Kelly Reaves)
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana Unversity, and Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition. Formerly, he was Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.