Atmosphere is Key: Eric Holzman at Lori Bookstein by Jonathan Goodman
Eric Holzman: Small Paintings at Lori Bookstein Fine Art
January 8 to February 7, 2015 138 Tenth Avenue, New York City, 212 750 0949
Eric Holzman makes small, luminous paintings that refer to locations in Westchester and the Hudson Valley. These paintings emphasize a lyrical abstraction as well as a closely noted view of landscapes and trees. Though small in size, they do not yield
to limited ambition. Indeed, they delineate, in a completely contemporary manner, a tradition of painting that reaches deep into American art history.
Holzman looks for tight compositions that encapsulate not only the shape of the landscape but also its feeling, which can best be described as visionary and mystical, not unlike the pastoral landscapes of Albert Pinkham Ryder. But the expressiveness is not high-pitched; instead, the lyricism is understated, muted even, within quite a dark palate of browns and greens. Unlike much art today, Holzman’s paintings reward close and extended gazing; they act as meditations not on what the life of nature might be, but rather on what it consists of now. Also, there is no real sense of nostalgia or ecological despair; the beauty of the paintings derives from persistent study of the green forms surrounding us. As a result, there is an air of realism that comes close to the way we see and experience nature, however precarious its position actually is.
Painting, which is far from dead, is in the hands of Eric Holzman singingly alive. He begins his paintings in situ, which may well account for the verisimilitude they convey. He then finishes the work in his New York City studio, where he incorporates a complex, built-up surface that compellingly corresponds with the particular view he is addressing. It is a difficult task in contemporary art to relive and push forward the genre of the landscape, which in the age of the Internet can seem antiquated and anachronistic. But Holzman bravely undertakes the recording nature in all its particularity, a stance still capable of engaging, even moving the viewer in the transcendental tradition of American writing and art. The curving forms of the trees fill Holzman’s art in ways that intensify the small dimensions of the paintings, which can be seen as serving an idealized vision of nature—even if the foliage is accurately rendered, with an eye to actual form. In many ways the persistence of Holzman’s interest in nature, in art-world circumstances that heavily favor technology and conceptual underpinnings, starts to look like a brave move to keep alive something of our relations with the outside world, which sadly we are changing beyond recognition.
Atmosphere is key to Holzman’s art. Billowing masses of dark green spread out across his canvases, to the point where they form more or less abstract passages built on the vernal forms from which they originate. In Kessico (2000), we see a small, blue-green tree in the foreground, with a pond just behind it. Trees in the background and to the right add a magical, mysterious atmosphere that sweeps across the small dimensions of the painting. The colors of these vernal shapes — olive green and blue green — don’t seem quite true to observation, intensifying the feeling of a dreamlike reality. Yet the viewer feels that this is an actual place, recorded in the moment but with an eye to posterity.
In Elm (2008-14) a large green tree rises up above a series of smaller trees grouped together at the bottom of the painting. An unusual dark mauve background contrasts with the darkish greens of the trees. The muted hues tend to place the composition in an atmospheric ambience. What comes through more than anything else is the formal elegance of the tall elm, which curves over the green forms beneath. The painting appears modest, but lasts a long time in the viewer’s thoughts.
While it is difficult to see these paintings without thinking of the Hudson River School, Holzman is not aiming to overwhelm the viewer with visions of an echoing sublime. Instead, he is content with returning to landscape art something of the dignity that those earlier painters conveyed. The rich textures of the applied paint serve to enhance our perception of the painting, whose rough surface adds to its contemporary fe
eling. Late Afternoon/Crestwood II (2013-14), a deep mass of green and brown foliage, has a small curving white truck placed right in the middle of the painting. The light is muted, as might be expected for the time being depicted; there is a marvelous haze that seems to emanate from the leaves. Here, as elsewhere, Holzman taps a quiet, but far-reaching vision in which the landscape has recovered from the great damage already done to it. His art facilitates this vision in profound ways.