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Art in America: Eric Holzman at Jason McCoy by Nathan Kernan

The first adjective that comes to mind to describe Eric Holzman's new paintings is "slow," meaning both slow to be taken in and, evidently, slow to create (a number encompass spans of two to five years). They seem to have come into being through a natural process of accretion, in which heavily worked paint surfaces, on close scrutiny, appear to be made up of or to separate into colored particulate.


The larger canvases (89 by 69 inches) in the series "The Sky is Crying" are predominantly dark in tonality. At a superficial glance they look abstract, but longer viewing reveals their subject to be a landscape with a more or less ambiguously rendered tree that nearly fills the vertical canvas. In Untitled (The Sky Is Crying) III (2003), the dark, swelling form gradually disengages itself from its almost equally dark, scumbled ground. It could as well be a cloud as a tree--growing, billowing, turning over onto itself. This mutability does not transmit well in reproductions, but depends on a kind of alchemical interaction between oil paint, light and the human retina.


One painting in the show, Girl Watching Duck Take Flight (2001-02), was distinguished from the others by its somewhat more descriptive and narrative content. In the upper half of the painting, a towering autumnal tree merges with gaudy Maxfield Parrish-orange clouds, while lower down the hues modulate to tenebrous blue-green-browns. A small, pale, female figure crouches, perhaps hiding, to watch a duck lift off from a lake. The painting's rich, lapidary colors, and its intangible shapes and narrative, combine to project an aura of mystery wonderfully suggestive of, among other things, Classical myth, fairy-tale illustration and 19th-century Symbolism. Through fleeting intimations of Moreau, Redon, Ryder and Davies, one recognizes the work of an artist like no other.


A series of small paintings (14 by 11 inches) in the back room explored, again, imagery based on tree forms, this time using a range of predominantly blue-green hues and brighter values. Holzman gives the impression, in places, that he has allowed the image to be determined or suggested by the almost haphazard flow, puddle and smear of the paint. The same room also contained three large grisailles--a canvas diptych and two works on paper mounted to canvas. The diptych, Two Trees (2001-02; 87 by 127 inches), at first seems to recede into its generally pale values and elusive (and allusive) draftsmanship, but a closer examination reveals tumultuous violence and power. Spanning one wall of the gallery like the open pages of a giant book, it connotes a kind of wide-screen apocalyptic vision, manifested in swirling smoke, violent waves, parting seas and lumbering, vaguely humanoid forms like storybook personifications of the winds. The fierce, swirling imagery, combined with a delicate, sere touch, recalls both Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of natural forces and Sung dynasty paintings of mist-shrouded mountains or dragons evolving from smoke. It was hard to tear oneself away

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