Chuck Holtzman

Elias Fine Art

LONG KNOWN FOR HIS INTRICATE, architectonic wood sculptures, Chuck Holtzman has spent the past five years focused exclusively on works on paper. Originally meant as an adjunct to sculpture, drawing has become an end in itself: Featuring delicate gestures and lines in charcoal, india ink, and Conté crayon, often made with drafting instruments, many of these works have also been cut, sanded, and reconfigured like neoconstructivist jigsaw puzzles.

The earlier works here blend solid shapes with vaporous ethereal forms in a kind of abstract narrative; organic yet precise arcs, ellipses, and circles in velvety charcoal contrast with sharp lines made with the help of various tools. In one 1997 drawing (all works Untitled), three distinct but related strata can be identified. The top third of the paper is dominated by an Eiffel Tower–like configuration of curves and angles made with a ruler. An airy middle level is punctuated by floating cloudlike forms in filmy gray charcoal; the overlapping curves and evanescent ghostly images are a result of snapping a french curve over a surface dusted with charcoal powder. The bottom portion of the drawing is distinguished by a delicate arrangement of ellipses and circles of varying intensities dancing across the paper. Drawn ellipses and circles imprinted by an industrial sander appear on all three levels, uniting the composition.

By 1998, Holtzman was increasingly excavating his drawings by cutting them up, removing parts, and turning them back to front in an effort to get deeper into the structure of the paper. In one rich drawing from 2000, the artist cut out and arranged more than forty rectangles into an organic quasi-Constructivist, quasi-Cubist composition. He reintroduced blank paper in forms that break up the areas marked with waxy crayon and left behind pieces of tape as traces of his process. Dark areas of drawing, illusionistic configurations of boxes and angles, contrast with the flat, blank cutouts. Like his sculptures, Holtzman's drawings negotiate the space between two and three dimensions with aplomb.

While these works are formally sophisticated, they are by no means cold or aesthetically pure. Most combine spontaneity and chance with a focus on the process of markmaking. In the newest works, the artist applied india ink with a squirter and pushed the wet blobs to form loose grounds. He then articulated the rich black biomorphic void by cutting circles into the paper and transplanting and recutting them. What results is determined not by plan or pattern but only by the process of investigating the tension between expressive gesture and rationally planned abstract intervention.

Viewers who took the time to read the messages of this thoughtful retrospective discovered a diaristic recapitulation of many years of the artist's composition and anticomposition in sculpture. It is as if Holtzman has been steadily reducing means and materials without losing the impact of his dynamic sculptural work.

Francine Koslow Miller