VCU’s Painting & Printmaking department graduate student Loie Hollowell discusses her current body of work, which incorporates the nude figure in fantastical nature settings, with undergraduate PAPR student Twyla Fiocchi. Hollowell will be part of the second round of MFA thesis exhibitions, on display at the Anderson Gallery May 4th through the 13th.
Twyla Fiocci (TF): What are you currently working on?
Loie Hollowell (LH): This is a painting of an interaction between a couple based on my husband, John, and I.
TF: I know that this work is a lot different than your previous fabric paintings. Where did this shift come from?
LH: I’m really interesting in painting the figure because the history of the figure in art is so dense. I’m really interested in working within that history. Also, I think that the dynamic of two figures having sex is something that has been explored in art in the past, but it’s not as prevalent. I’m also interested in the biracial aspect of my coupling. Getting to talk about issues of race through the female white artist—through the lens of feminism and race– is a topic that might feel uncomfortable if I wasn’t in the relationship I’m in, but I feel like I can take a position on the topic through the lens of feminism and race because of that. I don’t think it’s only about biracial-ness, but I think it’s an element of my work.
TF: Stylistically these paintings are different from your previous ones, also.
LH: For this painting I was trying to deconstruct the mark and be a little more loose and playful. I’m trying to stick more to the original drawing instead of working from a photograph. This one has more of a drawn with paint element combined with tighter elements. I’m really interested in putting those two together.
TF: You mentioned working within the lens of feminism; would you say this is feminist art?
LH: Definitely. This new work that I’ve been making is about highlighting the vagina and bringing in the prehistoric idea of it. Actually, I’ve been doing research and found that in the cave of Chauvet, discovered in France—full of centuries and centuries of cave drawings—one of the oldest carbon dated images is of these legs with this vaginal, vulva symbol. It’s a devotional symbol of the origin of life. What Christianity termed God was the male version, though this symbol is not necessarily female. It’s genderless. It’s the symbol of everything we understand as humans coming from this one really physical source. So I think my art is feminist in that although I don’t think it matters that I’m a woman, I think it’s interesting that I’m a woman painting these images based on fantasies that I have; where I would want to go and prance around naked in the everglades, or an imaginary pointillist world, or places associated with my hometown with the foliage, brush and trees back in California.
TF: Yes, the placements of these figures are set in very primal or primitive jungle settings.
LH: Yea, and they are like the Indian miniatures or the Japanese woodcuts. The figure is put center stage, almost like a set. You see this in those traditions, and the structure of these paintings I’m making is almost like a foreshortened stage set, where the space is pushed to the foreground. Everything is really stacked up in a way and that’s kind of what I’ve done here. The figure becomes really central in this way. Nature also becomes a figure in the work.
TF: How so?
LH: The term nature derives from the Latin term la natura. Latin genders words, and la is feminine, el is masculine. So in Latin, nature is feminine and even the breakup of the word nature is feminine in itself. The origin of la natura originally literally meant “birth.” I was interested in how the term nature that we know in English is derived from Latin, which is derived from an understanding of the world inherently based on the vagina bearing–the egg. Before religion, before painterly understanding of the hypersexual woman in nature, it was understood that just everyone was in nature. Everyone was living in caves. So the term nature came out of this understanding of the world that’s not necessarily gendered, like we understand gender today. It’s just everything comes out of this one place that we all understand is associated with part of the female anatomy. It’s not sexual at all. Its simple Darwinian fact–like this is where you come from. There’s no debating it being feminine or masculine.
TF: So this goes back to questions about the feminine being in art.
LH: With Christianity you have the association of the innocent woman of Eve before the fall and the sexual woman which is Eve after the fall, after the apple. Whenever we have women in nature now, they’re always seen as Eve after the fall—sexual, promiscuous women. That’s how men, modernists such as Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, were painting women: prancing around in nature, flautist, colorful paintings at the turn of the century. They were dealing with the fantasy of the post-fall Eve. The sexual, post-innocent Eve. The one they can fantasize and put their penis into. Not the pre-innocent Eve that’s just happily unified with nature. What I’m trying to explore is who is the Eve that is both innocent and sexual? And also equal to the male counterpart. In a way I’m using [my husband] as a character to enact my dominance or imagine a shifted world where I am dominating him. Like in this painting where I’m on top of him and I want to make it ambiguous as to, is it me having sex with him or is it him penetrating me?
Eyeing the Everglades, 2012, oil on canvas, 7.5″ x 10″
TF: So after you finish this year at VCU, what do you plan to do?
LH: I plan to go back to New York. I grew up in California but after grad school I came to New York and was getting shows anywhere I could there. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I go back but I’ll probably leave Richmond by the end of May. Maybe June.
TF: Did you attend school in California?
LH: I grew up in Woodland, which is like the northern part of California, but I went to undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, which is below LA.
TF: Did you major in Painting there?
LH: No actually, I majored in Sculpture.
TF: How did you get into painting then?
LH: My father was a painter so I was always exposed to it but I also hated it for that reason. Right before I graduated, though, I had all this studio space and decided to try painting and I got really into it. I self-taught myself to paint then and then just continued with it.
TF: You also teach a class here in the Painting department, and having a studio in the building you’re around the students a lot. Have you noticed a trend among their art at all?
LH: Well I think that a lot of the trends that occur among students are very heavily influenced by the teachers. I’ve noticed so much abstraction.
TF: I’ve noticed that too, but a lot of the teachers also hold this conversation about how abstract expressionism is something that we as painters need to move away from. That it’s not coming from the same place it originally did and therefore isn’t as relevant among our generation.
LH: The prevalence of abstraction maybe comes from the students making art for the teachers, knowing what they’ve made. Why do you think students come in a paint abstraction?
TF: I think it has to do with how the teachers encourage thinking outside the box, conceptually, and then we never actually learn how to paint technically well so we resort to abstraction or bad digital internet art.
LH: It’s because you’re maybe not taught a skill that might help you express the ideas you really want to.
TF: But you said that you taught yourself how to paint well.
LH: Yes, but I also grew up around a painterly father, so I think that had something to do with my own skills. Even so, the fact that I’m painting something like these really abstract marks would disgust him, like, “What the hell are you doing?”
TF: So what are other reasons students are resorting to these things, then?
LH: I think that it highlights something that’s going on in the broader spectrum of art. It seems like a lot of art that is being made now is really quickly made and it becomes a critique of production. You make something really fast, but the concept is there. The time is spent in conceptualizing the piece, and then the product can be made really quickly. So you get this art now that is not necessarily technically sound or deep. I think that’s a problem in art right now. However, I don’t think that photo-realistic painting or realism is the answer. I think that really honing in on a skill and developing it and developing it–whether it’s concept or if it’s developing a painting skill, trying this and this and this and really honing in on whatever all those things are is really important–rather than a quick knockoff digital print.
TF: This also seems to reflect how much information we have at our fingertips. You can learn a billion things and then stuff them into something really conceptual because you don’t know how to incorporate all those ideas together.LH: Yea I think that’s another thing that happens in the education system. You have access to everything now. You have access to a laser cutter, a woodshop, a print studio—VCU’s amazing for that. I had no idea there were so many ways to make art before I came here. I’d never been to a school that had so much accessibility. So you can make a million different things but… You have this idea of the renaissance person who can do a little bit of everything. The key is a little bit of a little bit of everything. Maybe you could do a little bit of math, a little bit of drawing, a little bit of philosophy. Now it’s like the renaissance person is good at a million things. Be good at a lot of things, but don’t be good at a billion things. Be good at five things in your art practice. Be good at using oil paint. Or be good at using Photoshop or Final Cut Pro and then don’t deal with paint. I don’t know if that’s the answer but…I guess that’s where the art world is.