San Francisco

Art Holman

De Young Museum

Mr. Holman works principally in an idiom that is best described as Abstract Im­pressionism. Like the original Impres­sionists, he is much concerned, in a very technical sense, with optics and the optical properties of his media: colors are “fragmented,” modulated and juxtaposed, and glazes are employed, as are other devices of texturing, with reference to optical dynamics, and with the knowledgeability of a physicist care­fully exploring properties of pigmented chemicals. The work may, therefore, be described as technically “objective” and “experimental,” while the overall es­thetic result sought with these refine­ments—almost technological rather than merely technical—is a highly “subjec­tive” communication of mood and of “essence” as the artist feels them.

The experimentation, though always meticulously controlled, is for the most part, fresh, dynamically explorative and innovative. Mainly within the framework of a broad consistency of method and approach, there is an abundant variety of invention from painting to painting. In only one canvas in the entire show does Mr. Holman fall, unequivocally, into the beaten paths of his Impression­ist predecessors: “Olympus” is almost a cliche in classic pointillism, that could be a blown-up version of a square inch of Mediterranean sky from a Pis­saro landscape. Considering the obvious knowledgeability and technical aware­ness of the artist, we may speculate that perhaps the painting is a tribute, and the “paraphrasing” as deliberate as one of those conscious quotations of Mozart employed by Stravinsky in his Neo-Classical period, or like the Swin­burnian alliterative cadences in Eliot. But these are a good deal more than clever exercises in transformed ante­cedent methods and recondite allusion, while Mr. Holman’s “Olympus” fails to rise above the level of a merely con­trived study in paraphrasing a congenial prototype.

Probably the two most sensitively conceived and poignantly evocative paintings in the rather small selection comprising this exhibit are “Ebbing” and “Canyon.” The former conjures the rhythms and colors characteristic of blue-green water rushing over cataracts of mossy rock formation, while the lat­ter is a subtle interpretation of the majesty of intricately cavernous cliffs bathed in mysterious, crepuscular lu­minosity against a hazy sky. In both of these paintings there is a meticulously detailed undulance of subtle color modulations and contrasts, yet, the overall dynamic effect is different in each: the water swirls and gurgles tu­multuously (yes, one can almost hear it!), while the canyon-cliffs stand ineffably serene, static and eternal, in shimmering, dreamlike twilight.

In the misnomered “Diptych,” as well as in large areas of “Foliation” and “Night Reflections,” Mr. Holman aban­dons the fine ripplings of color modu­lation and employs rugged shapes, masses and linear structures, boldly stated in continuous ribbons, and in fairly large areas, of pure and opaque, but very luminous color. In “Foliation” the structures and contrasts are in­volved enough to convey, still, at a dis­tance, a mosaic effect and some refrac­tive aura, but in none of these paintings is there the hazy, quasi-pointillistic granular fragmentation and undulant modulation which relates much of this artist’s work to classic Impressionism.

“Foliation” is a square painting hung with its hypotenuse on the horizontal. It is an academic question whether this unusual orientation was germane to the conception or an afterthought. At any rate, “it works” and imparts emphasis to the centrifugal spiral movement im­plicit in the complex, convolutional or­ganization of the composition. This basic momentum, defining a concave, conical “space” is delineated with tangled ribbons of purple-black paint against various tonalities within the blue-violet to blue-white spectrum. As compared with Mr. Holman’s other paintings, the impasto, throughout, is relatively thick and corrugate. The title is enigmatic, since the tonalities, as well as the ruggedness and energy of surface and design, convey little sug­gestion of foliage, but rather bring to mind a forest arabesque of gnarled roots.

In “Night Reflections” there is an exploration of taut and twisted, brittle, linear shapes, mainly in the vertical plane and rendered in rather flat um­bers and rusts against a deep blue background. Much is done with opaque granular textures and little rough nug­gets and grains of dry, powdery impasto. This painting is unique in the present showing in that the texturing is “sur­face” texturing as opposed to “optical” or color-refractive/reflective texturing, and the thinking and method, generally, are Expressionistic rather than Impres­sionistic.

After the interpretations of Nature, and the power, movement and mood generated in the canvases just men­tioned, such impressionistic pastiches as “Hanging Gardens,” “Montgomery Way,” and “Purple Heart” comprise an incongruity in this exhibition. Here, the superior craftsmanship and technical ingenuity, always evident in Mr. Hol­man’s work, seem debased to trivial ends. “Hanging Gardens,” with its decor­ative elaboration of leaf-forms, and “Montgomery Way,” an amorphous haze of lush pastel greens, are merely precious. “Purple Heart” with its globular central mass resembling an orchid bou­quet, seems to present a corsage, plucked from the blouse of a Mary Cas­satt belle, and “etherized upon a table.”

Palmer D. French