It is hard to imagine a contemporary artist further from today's prevailing sensibilities than Eric Holzman. Antithetical to the glossy bounce of most Chelsea fare, the 45 drawings (1990-2007) on view at the New York Studio School, mostly watercolor, egg tempera and sometimes charcoal or graphite on prepared paper, are suffused with romantic yearning, as though plumbing the past to recover lost visions. Far from seeming like the next big thing, these could be fragments from a previous era: poignant representational notations discovered in the archives of a solitary mystic on the order of Ryder or Redon.
Working on mottled gray surfaces whose distressed grounds read as atmospheric space, Holzman appears to develop most of the drawings in increments, using line and washes, as well as spare, opaque white accents in the manner of the highlights traditionally found in old master drawings. Images often seem to have been conjured from tonal irregularities in the prepared ground, as when some discovered shape has metamorphosed into a cloud or a tree. One imagines him slowly working the page to see who or what shows up, then scrupulously attending to a precise description. The subject, whether his wife, child, a friend, or elements of a landscape or still life, could be emerging through a mist or through memory, as though drawing were a way both of accounting for what is before him and of recalling another lifetime.
The irregular, slightly puddling liquid paint in Middle Road (2006-07) establishes a fine chiaroscuro, and one delicate splatter quietly declares the work's material process. We seem to be looking at a familiar site that nonetheless has the strange specificity of a dream.
Their small size, delicacy and intensity of observation account for the intimacy of Holzman's drawings. With their narrow chromatic range, the reticence and modesty of these images promote close viewing, as though one were listening to some quiet avowal. They bring to mind the small, exploratory works on paper by Turner, Constable and Victor Hugo.
Holzman's drawings may also at times evoke Edwin Dickinson's subtle range of tone, Walter Murch's use of wrinkled paper as grounds or Jake Berthot's eclectic romanticism. Like these artists, he reveres and pays homage to the tradition within which he works. While some of the drawings are preparations for Holzman's large, moody and intensively worked paintings, they all carry their fragile weight as independent, distinctive realizations.