Bob Dylan and Walt Whitman, Eugene Delacroix and Gerhard Richter, Homelands and Flags and Jasper Johns. These are just a few of the influences flowing through Real in Itself, Aaron Holz’s 17-painting Kiechel Fine Art show.
Some of these influences, like Dylan and Whitman, are inspirational. Some, like Richter and Charles Scheeler, are visual and technical. Some, like Delacroix and the flags, are an influence of Johns, both.
Apart from the flags, none of the 14 abstractions in the exhibition can be seen explicitly. And the figurative works – three floral images – add more specific references to these influences and serve to enhance in contrast the intricate abstractions that work through geometry, depth, perspective shifts and colour.
Flags dictate the shape of the panels, to which Holz applies layers of paint and sometimes draws them around with a squeegee a la Richter. And the native flags themselves—sometimes elongated, sometimes cut into tiny triangles—appear on the paintings‘ surface, driving their dynamic visual flow.
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“Turtle Island”, “Pine Ridge” and “Winter Camp” have their titles from the native lands. But the peculiarities of the island on the Minnesota River or the landscape of South Dakota are gone, subsumed in an atmospheric base that suggests landscape, rather than showing the features a la Holz’s earlier series of works, which found “Chimney Rock” clearly identifiable at the center of the painting .
In view of the currently overheated discussion about cultural appropriation, it must be stated that Holz’s paintings are not about a white painter who borrows and represents images of the indigenous culture. Rather, they are sympathetic and identify with the pipeline protests in “Winter Camp” and “Turtle Island”.
This socio-political subtext also seeps into the paintings via Dylan, Whitman and, through reflection, Delacroix.
While working on or pondering the paintings, Holz listened to Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute song about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the dark side of American political and cultural history eyes.
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One of the paintings, the green-saturated “Love Field,” takes its name from the Dallas airport where JFK landed on November 22, 1963, and implies the “grassy hill” that some believe a second gunman is at was involved in the assassination.
The works of Whitman, the 19th-century poet and essayist, offered a contrasting perspective to Dylan’s, a homage to America that underlies the paintings.
Delacroix’s influence, technically and subtextally, stems from “Liberty Leading the People,” his 1830 painting commemorating the French Revolution. For Holz, this messy work with flags reflected the Jan. 6, 2021 riot that sent Confederate and Trump flags into the Capitol in a failed attempt at an anti-democratic revolution.
These influences are obviously not seen directly in the paintings. But “Liberty Leading the People” contributes to the greatest abstractions, as wood uses a triangular shape that surrounds Liberty as the underlying shape.
The smaller abstractions do not use the triangle. But all explore a back and forth between surface and background, finding landscape elements like clouds fading and blurring in the underlying atmosphere.
This atmosphere is covered with a geometric layout, sometimes easy to spot and others only visible upon close inspection, and the surface is enlivened by the flags creating movement, whether in a strong direction or together against a centerline.
Color is the final component of the paintings, interpreted differently by wood, avoiding blue in some works, seeing how much blue can be used in others, finding faint yellow as the base of one piece, bright green dominating another.
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And chunks of color appear through it all, being peeled from the layers of paint creating texture and depth.
All of these elements except for the color, along with an intentional randomness, come together in Many in One. In this gray tour-de-force, the elongated triangular flags fly primarily to the right, with triangles of squares appearing across the panel over the atmospheric layers of paint dotted with dark circles created by the application of turpentine, which happens to be some who has removed layers.
As for the three figurative paintings, all are flowers – one, the white “Cherokee Rose,” is another reflection on Native American history – it depicts the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of more than 60,000 Native people by the US Government by the US Southeast in the 1800s.
But they are examples of where the abstractions come from, as wood intentionally blurs some details of flower petals and clarifies the reflections on water found in some of the abstractions in the most subtle ways.
Viewed side by side in Holz’s Richards Hall studio, where he is Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the paintings engage in a lively discussion of form and movement, color and pattern, texture and scale, and, to a lesser extent, figuration and abstraction.
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Viewed individually in the gallery, the discussion is calmer, allowing each of the paintings to reveal its lyrical complexity, arresting movement and depth, as Holz has managed to capture the quote from early American modernist painter Arthur Dove that makes the exhibition hers Title gives:
“I want to make something that’s real in itself, that doesn’t remind anyone of anything else and that doesn’t need to be explained like the letter A, for example.”
Dale Nichols’ work in the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art
Valley Farm between the cliffs
Ghost of Halloween.
The young corn god weeps for his people
Country of Lincoln
chicken for dinner
Reach the author at 402-473-7244 or [email protected] On Twitter @KentWolgamott