Frank Holliday “SEE/SAW” Mucciaccia Gallery / New York by

by April 25, 2020

In his essay for the catalogue of this exhibition, the curator, legendary critic Carter Ratcliff, states, “If the painting is non-figurative it does not, by definition, show us any figures and yet it faces us with a human presence.” That is perhaps the most succinct and accurate insight regarding the intrinsic nature of abstract art I have yet come across.
Painting might be viewed as a destructive act. Starting with the perfection of the blank page, with each subsequent mark the artist violently berates the unfolding image until it is utterly betrayed — until its obliteration is complete. Thus it attains a new perfection that a single further gesture would fracture. It is an old adage that knowing when a painting is finished is the painter’s most difficult decision. One more stroke and the balance has been shifted, opening a Pandora’s box of new possibilities — like starting over again from a more complicated scratch. It is also possible to imply a shape or color by its absence. Put that last piece of the puzzle in place and perfection is attained once again while stifling the life out of the composition. But: one stroke shy and the image is animate. The artist may juggle the tensions and balances of a composition so the entire surface appears to slide off to the left or explode up top, or blow outwards from the surface directly into the room, blasting the viewer. But, Holliday’s pieces are often gaseous and ephemeral. They are obstinately void of form: insistently non-referential.
These oil paintings comprise swooshing, choppy and scumbled, aggressive brushstrokes and earthen, chalky, glowing, or bloody coloration. Essentially, the entire litany: the meat and potatoes of Abstract Expressionistic painting to date.
Obvious precedents were established by Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning. Yet Holliday does not appear to be adhering to the Greenbergian philosophy of heroic painting as an object unto itself. Holliday’s works strive to “live” and emanate presence. The problem with subtlety is that it’s, well, subtle. To successfully achieve this suite of “complete” paintings is a remarkable achievement, given the mandates the painter has set himself. For these are truly “abstract” paintings. They are expressive depictions of the various moods of the human condition. Like diaristic relics of a day.
Resisting imagery is no easy feat. Cloud gazing is an evolutionary survival mechanism: finding referential reflective imagery or animalistic faces — faces, eyes, and teeth — where none exist, startling at movement flickering along a periphery. Humankind’s imagination and intelligence rely on associations of seemingly unrelated forms, and getting spooked in the night has kept us alive and allowed us to evolve to this day. Therefore, Frank Holliday’s acceptance of pure abstract thought simultaneously represents a defiance of this natural instinct and an embrace of primal emotion as well as “spiritual” synthesis — seeing, feeling “god’s” glow in yellow sunshine and blue shadows or, as per impressionism, the darkened voids.
Red sells. Blue is mysterious because it appears to recede into our atmosphere and is therefore a relaxing shade. Hot and cool hues equal danger or safety. Colors also have illusionistic properties — red optically jumps forward because it represents heat, blood, and danger, therefore excitement (which is why it “sells”). Blue is deep; golden yellow establishes a stably royal or neutral platform. These are our basic haptic observational tendencies in tandem with the emotional responses provoked by primary colors. Other tones combine the above to various affects. I doubt Frank Holliday consciously pre-thought his use of color in specific passages in order to cultivate specific responses; it was more of an intuitive thing. He instinctively employed juxtapositions of colors enjoining moods and emotive responses, insistently destroying recognizable imagery, in order to communicate mood only. Not illustratively, such as, “Oh, I will make a sad or happy picture,” employing A, B, C, or D, like a book of tricky techniques. Effects were used in the absence of conscious intention. And THAT is why this work is relevant to the human condition, today, yesterday, forever. Each mark is the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end of the…
Hey, I haven’t really described the paintings. Just look at the photographs.

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Christopher Hart Chambers