PRINT November 1966

Tom Holland at Richmond

IF EVER AN EXHIBITION of visual art called for sound and movement as a complement, Tom Holland's one­man show at Richmond Art Center was it. There is something wildly paganistic in Holland's more recent work, which calls for pipes-of-Pan in some areas, voodoo drums in others. Even his prodigious output suggests some sort of secret fertility rite—and in assembling the show J. J. Aasen, curator of the Richmond Center, sensed it. The paintings were hung in a manner that suggested back­drops, and the paper sculptures, which have recently obsessed Hol­land, were set out in tableaux. The environmental effect was one of a weird sort of paradise, gimmicky in some areas, but on the whole ex­citing.

Holland automatically reaches for that universal symbolism which plumbs the depths of common de­sire (especially the escape from re­straint). While he is a conspicuously bad craftsman his unconcern for the craft of art (always a man-made ar­rangement) is in itself a symbol, as if he, like the artisans of primitive societies, felt that only an immediate expression was required of the work.

Holland first showed at the Rich­mond Art Center in 1962, following his return from a year of study in Chile. At that time his paintings were heavily impastoed, with the rich dark paint applied in varying textures from smooth to deeply grooved. (The in­fluence of Catholic colonial decora­tion was evident, although most likely he had absorbed it unconsciously.) In that show he also included paper banners, painted with gouache, which reflected his concern with fiesta dec­orations and religious rites dominated by Indian rather than Spanish tradi­tion. In following shows at Lanyon Galleries, Richmond Art Center and Hansen Galleries (1962–5) the Indian cultures crept more and more to the front of his consciousness, although he has always projected these pagan influences.

His “kite” paintings are exemplary. They owe their shape to the frame­work, although the painted surface is more than detailing—it heightens the illusion of some mythical figure. Later, and more recently, he has re­turned to the flat canvas for support, puncturing it with flying figures or projecting paper shrubs from it, all of which is significant of his ebullient reaction to the tyranny of the ac­cepted format.

In this show he went all out, with palm trees loosely constructed of sil­ver paper, some paintings in 2-D with brilliant colors and a too-slick sur­face, a free-standing figure of a fat female painted in natural colors but with a sheaf of paper leaves protrud­ing from her neck in lieu of a head, a reclining figure of a winged female with neck pointed off to resemble some sort of finned saurian. Piece by piece, the show would be about 50% acceptable, but as a group it held a sort of jittery fascination. Hol­land was certainly “dramatizing his engrams,” and in doing so he had himself a ball.

––E. M. Polley