Andrew Holmquist: Beyond the Crimson Veil (With Apologies to Doctor Strange)

They hang long and heavy, something intimidating, candy-apple colored strips of heavy plastic and the mien they give off is industrial, a hint of alien aggressiveness, a slight soupcon of stay-the-fuck away like the lolling tongues of junkyard dogs or the K-9 unit on a high ride on the elevated train, breaking up Carrie Secrist gallery into … theaters, one supposes, Stage Left and all, and these massive curtains of heavy welding screens, beside making one think of the warehouse space in the back of a grocery store, besides adding immediate and indispensable curatorial heft and aegis for the observer—there is so much here, both conceptually and literally, Andrew Holmquist being an obviously inquisitive artist and Stage Left an ambitious undertaking, and having it all broken into more manageable sections is not only the smart thing to do, but the requisite thing to do—is to illustrate, in a simple, clever way that one will most likely not at first notice, the great thesis threading the whole thing together, that presentation and medium are to be bred like plants (or, of course, dogs!) and brought to heel, for the expression of various forms in various ways are inevitably linked, the old Marshall McLuhan idea, except played with, blown out, beautiful flowers on the old doctor's grave, and the easiest way to see this is to stand on one side of those heavy dog-tongue candy-apple screens, and look at the paintings Holmquist has placed on the other side—thrown into stark relief! defenestrated and tossed into a grey space of line and angle, soft ashen abyss—and then, most likely with gallery director/Holmquist elucidator Britton Bertran's encouragement, to push through the heavy curtains, which requires, let's not kid ourselves, a bit of work, definitely more than one would expect, being heavy as they are, and zap, the paintings scream to voltaic life, color and motion, no longer filtered through the heavy red, the medium and message—here, one supposes, the medium is the air, the rods and cones, the curtain, the space, the exhibition—instantly transformed, and one is, with apologies to Doctor Strange, beyond the crimson veil! - B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor


Andrew Holmquist | Installation view through the welding screens. Photo by RCH|EKH, courtesy of Carrie Secrist Gallery


Andrew Holmquist | Hidden Fortress, 2015, oil, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas, 60 x 50 inches. Photo by RCH|EKH, courtesy of Carrie Secrist Gallery

With Stage Left, Holmquist explores the way mediums can play against one another, the myriad worlds and stories, legends and associations, expected and not, which can arise when one curates the medium as purposefully as the message. This idea could perhaps be most readily represented in the work of the dramaturge, whose job in the theater (hence the exhibition’s title) is perform the heavy R&D which goes into a play, as well as the entire oeuvre of the playhouse, serving as something like the Ur-curater.

Holmquist's tale is one of super-heroics, for the most part, the delightfully abstracted figures of his  paintings—long, electric, possessing in the them the quality of dancers, shimmering like Wonder Woman's gauntlets or Superman's curl with sprayed enamel and Holmquist's proprietary quick-drying paint mixture, which allowed for the celerity of their creation, which in turn allows for these heavy and gorgeous paintings-as-sculptures to seem, despite the obvious weight of their application and density, impossibly fast, alive—moving throughout the exhibition and gallery and even dimensions, their powers seeming most like Doctor Strange's, the man who walks through worlds … there they are in a painting! Again in a sculpture! Again in costume! Again in film!

The story is a bit convoluted, the mediums being as varied as they are, the message splintering accordingly, but slowly and surely—and with help from someone like Bertran—the thing, and what Holmquist is torquing it into doing, begins to come into focus. Consider the cacophonous carnation whorl of Hidden Fortress, whose name seems ridiculous once one has been beyond the crimson veil, but makes total sense with the welding screens in the way, the red filtering out so much of Holmquist's painting that the canvas does indeed appear almost blank. The sybaritic explosion of Super Power, the amassing, in powerful ebony shades, of a Suit of Armor; the ominous Grand Entrance, which, one imagines, is the figure's entre into society, their warm pink and red with which they see themselves replaced by a cold ice blue with which the world sees them, a powerful form of legs and hands from a scythe-armed mass, alluring and intimidating at the same time; the hints of industriousness in Lifting, Pumping, Stretching, white and grey and filled with limbs and angles echoing the geometric exertions of athletes.


Andrew Holmquist | Swim Meet, 2015, oil, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas, 84 x 72 inches. Photo by RCH|EKH, courtesy of Carrie Secrist Gallery

Swim Meet is a particular standout, beneficiary of the beyond the crimson veil effect, which takes it from hagiographic celebration of the male athletic form—whose easy conflation, by the way, with the super-heroic that begins in childhood has been co-opted and curated and promoted viciously by the apparel companies (with help, one would think, from the athletes themselves; who wouldn't want to be a superhero?)—gleaned from someplace like the Sports Illustrated archives into vibrant and living moments, the athletes—heroes—mid-crawl or mid-break or mid-breaking of the surface; one figure in the left corner, coiled like a cobra on the starting block, one figure in the middle, right angles devouring the water in front of him, one figure on the right side, the entire length of his torso, his nates, his legs and feet still above the water—an entire tale of passion, pain, effort, technique, from past to immediate, eyeball-arresting present with nothing more but a shift in perspective, a changing in the medium.


Installation view of pottery by Andrew Holmquist and Holmquist Pottery, 2015. Photo by RCH|EKH, courtesy of Carrie Secrist Gallery

Pushing the idea further is Holmquist's teaming up—like, say, The Defenders, the team of individuals—with other artists to grant his figures the ultimate in powers, the ability to transcend dimensions and mediums. The long armed, defiantly open-palmed hand which works its way into the paintings resembles not only itself when turned into a piece of pottery (with the help of his parents, professional potters from Minnesota), the kind of stunning physical metamorphoses and weight and feeling of captured energy which comes from the addition of a dimension, the kind of vibe that causes a fan to buy an expensive bust of Aquaman, but also now resembles, say, a particularly crude or humorously distorted fork, or ancient objet for the early worship of a sea deity, an icon adding potential meanings as it finds itself with a different sort of heft than it contains in the painted form (and isn't if funny how a shift of medium has us seamlessly talking ceramics in a venue dedicated to painting?). When this hand is then taken from mimetic motion to actual, literal motion via a video made with Alexander Stewart, it becomes charming, whimsical, Magic Hands indeed.


Andrew Holmquist, fabricated by Jasper Drummond | Tongue Erection, 2015, plastic-coated spandex, foam core, upholstery film, welding helmet, toilet paper, plastic film, mannequin, wood palette, metal rods, spray paint, latex gloves, approx. 83 x 53 x 88 inches. Photo by RCH|EKH, courtest of Carrie Secrist Gallery

The super hero costume which stands avant-garde in the gallery's window, tailored to Holmquist's measurements, fabricated by Jasper Drummond, and delightfully named Tongue Erection, promises the most wonderful medium shift in all of Stage Left. Green and pink, with boots like geometry problems, an arm ending in the ever-present hand, a massive, freshly-licked-wet-looking upholstery watermelon taffy colored tongue flowing like a reverse cape from the shoulder, like Gogo Dodo epaulettes on a Wackyland admiral, the face hidden behind the pulp sci-fi mask of a welding helmet—appropriate accoutrements, notice, if one wants to get past those welding screens!—with toilet paper streaming from its eye, the suit is physical embodiment of the figures which are being chased across all manner of media in Stage Left, and the medium it promises to project Holmquist's vision on to … is you! From painting to pottery to film to flesh!

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B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at bdavidzarley.com.

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