Descent into Chaos

Loie Hollowell x Olivia Bax and Emma Cousin

In July 2020, Ambit interviewed artist Loie Hollowell for an online exclusive. The questions were asked by Ambit Art Editor, Olivia Bax and Emma Cousin, whose work featured in Ambit 229.

Ambit has published 6 pastel drawings from Hollowell’s solo exhibition Going Soft, an online solo exhibition with Pace Gallery (30 June – 14 July 2020). The drawings reflect the artist’s lived physical experiences of sex, pregnancy and postpartum motherhood. The drawings published below were made in quarantine at the end of the artist’s second pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exploration of physical and psychological experiences marks a shift in her practice. They are intensely reflective. “I tried to care less about perfection and planning.”

Loie Hollowell, Descent into chaos, June 1, 2020, soft pastel and graphite on paper, 20″ × 26″ (50.8 cm × 66 cm), #75507, Format of original photography: high res TIF

Ambit: Can you describe how these pastel drawings mark a shift in your practice? 

Loie Hollowell: These new drawings were created during the last few weeks of my second pregnancy with my daughter and subsequent months after giving birth during the stay at home order in New York this past Spring and Summer. Working from home, in the midst of this pandemic with my family, meant that I had limited time to linger on my drawings as I normally would. Between the new baby and my one-year-old son, it was practically impossible to have long stints of studio time, which resulted in work, that by necessity, was more immediate and direct. My mark-making became less fussy and strategic and the ideas that I wanted to convey poured out of me with less restraint than before. I felt free to experiment and loosen my creative grip.

Loie Hollowell, Trickle Down, March 24, 2020, soft pastel and graphite on paper, 26″ × 20″ (66 cm × 50.8 cm), #75484, Format of original photography: high res TIF

Ambit: The drawings are held in a sense of confinement within the dimensions of the paper and the use of black holes. How was this a direct influence of pregnancy and lockdown? 

LH: Clearly, with the change in my environment and life due to Covid-19, I approached these drawings as meditations on the upcoming birth. The dark voids and holes are meant to represent the kind of pain one endures during labor and the fear of the unknown going into something as traumatic as childbirth. I wanted to illustrate this kind of journey that you go through alone as a birthing woman. The black hole is meant to be literal yes, read as a gaping opening from which human life emerges, but also as a psychological state or experiential representation of the plunge into obscurity when you give birth.

Loie Hollowell, Post-pregnant belly and boobs, June 17, 2020, soft pastel and graphite on paper, 26″ × 20″ (66 cm × 50.8 cm), #75552, Format of original photography: high res TIF
Loie Hollowell, Birth, perspective from above and below, June 5, 2020, soft pastel and graphite on paper, 20″ × 26″ (50.8 cm × 66 cm), #75551, Format of original photography: high res TIF

Ambit: The drawings seem bigger than simple self-reflection. They could be a warning about impending threat. What’s the relationship between diagrammatic and feeling?

LH: I can understand your reading, especially in works like Perspective from above and below – the piece translates multiple perspectives and realities into a kind of amalgamated blueprint.

It was the last drawing I completed before I gave birth and I think it helped me understand what was ahead, both physically and mentally.

It’s easy to visualise pregnancy as some linear process, but it feels much more complicated than that. With the rate at which your mental and emotional state shifts, along with the way your body adapts, contorts and stretches, it feels like everything’s happening all at once, from a million different angles. Visualising this as a map served to help me focus on these transitions (pre-birth, birth and post-birth) in a more soothing way. Something I was prepared for, rather than afraid of.

Ambit: You have mentioned that these drawings are fast to execute and you seem to be productive even during lockdown, how does the process lend itself to your own energy? 

LH: There was a lot of chaotic energy around me during the creation of these drawings. Between my son, my newborn baby girl and the rest of my daily life being unrelenting as it is, it was a miracle if I could get in thirty minutes to work. Art making has always been a form of therapy, but for this particular series, it felt even more cathartic. I wasn’t able to really sit with the work like I normally would, so these drawings were almost direct snapshots of my mental state at the time of their creation. At times I was deeply frustrated, scared, and overwhelmed, and these works helped me to sort through some of those feelings, albeit in a kind of sporadic-random-kind-of-way.

Ambit: Can you tell us about your particular palette? We are interested in the tension between the blended surface and the preserved colour. 

LH: Because of the multi-tasking and constant interruptions, I felt more uninhibited in my choices in regards to colour. I worked more intuitively and when I felt like something needed red, I would add it; when I changed my mind, I would blend it out. Anything and everything was on the table and with this marked shift came a more muddled and earthy palette. I really liked how blobby and organic my compositions had become and my palettes followed suit, transforming into dark, bodily hues along the way.

Ambit: We were struck by the insightful and witty annotations at the side of the drawings. When do they happen? Are they a way of destabilising the image? How do they relate to the title of the work? 

LH: The writings along the margins of the paper happen at the end of the process, when the work is complete. They act as a kind of journal to flesh through the concepts of the piece, as well as notes on any formal changes I might make to the work. Articulating my thoughts on the edges helps me understand my message more clearly and when the time comes, I choose one of them as the title for the piece.

Ambit: Do you think your work is moving closer to figuration? 

LH: I’ve always nodded to figuration in the past, through more geometric and abstract means, but for this particular series, the subject is clearly more representational and illustrative. There are distinct forms that embody hands, faces, boobs and other parts of my body. Blurring those lines and playing around with discernable bodily elements made room for more free flowing experimentation in my work as a whole.

Loie Hollowell, Yellow Ovum, March 24, 2019, soft pastel and graphite on paper, 26″ × 20″ (66 cm × 50.8 cm), #75446, Format of original photography: high res TIF

All images © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery

Loie Hollowell (b. 1983, Woodland, California) lives and works in New York. She earned a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Recent solo exhibitions include: One opening leads to another, GRIMM Keizersgracht, Amsterdam (2019-20); Plumb Line, Pace New York (2019); Dominant / Recessive, Pace London (2018) and Switchback, Pace Hong Kong (2018). Recent group exhibitions include: The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville (2018), which travelled to The New Britain Museum of Art, New Britain, USA (2019). Hollowell was the recipient of a 2011 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship Award. She is represented by Pace Gallery.Loie Hollowell /

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