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by Suvan Geer

"Long They Sat in Silence," oil on linen
on wood panel, 64 x 72", 2000.

"Of Sunlit Fields," oil on linen on
wood panel, 64 x 72", 2000.

"Fathom," oil on linen on
wood panel, 72 x 64", 2000.

"Great Currents. . .Desolate Waters,"
oil on linen on wood
panel, 72 x 64", 2000.
(Chac-Mool Gallery, West Hollywood) Abstract painting is having a Renaissance in Los Angeles right now, filled with more energy and freshness than you might expect from a Modernist territory repeatedly declared dead or critically dismissed for its lack of Postmodern content. Being overlooked for more than two decades may have unhooked this kind of painting from the fatwas of the hip and theoretical, so it’s finding its own drummers. Certainly painter Dennis Hollingsworth’s paintings have a good rhythm going.

These latest works continue his marriage of liquid paint to intuitive process that made his Wet on Wet canvases such extraordinary surfaces of meandering line and tactile explosion. But his color has gotten edgier and the spatial grounds less translucent. In work as stripped down to mark and paint as this is, those changes represent a huge shift in attitude.

Hollingsworth has always made the surface of the canvas a magical and imaginative territory of painterly space. A space that is remarkably external rather than internal. Frank Stella once commented, “the aim of art is to create space--space in which the subjects of painting can live.” Hollingsworth reminds us constantly that painting’s space is not just the territory of representation and mind, but also a physical reality. Instead of illusionary depth his works literally build forward. The paint accumulates in tattered sheets and loopy drools, fluid bulges, volcanic splats, and bristling burrs, all clinging to one another and the painting’s surface with élan.

The flicks of paint and dribbled lines Hollingsworth makes are a curious blend of uncontrolled and methodical construction. On one hand they are the pure, rapidfire, gestural mark of abstract expressionism; but on the other a more codified method of intuitive practice. Working to keep colors clear he avoids brushes, preferring to mix things up by cutting into blobs of fleshy oil paint with knives, scrapping and dragging things around or carefully adhering one flattened daub to another like stacked poker chips. He pokes at some wet mounds until they spike even higher, casting jagged shadows across into the maelstrom of paint surrounding them. It’s a self-conscious kind of manipulation of the paint’s physicality that subsumes the gestural mark in a larger process of intuitive action and reaction, and it somehow manages to retain a feeling of spontaneity.

Some of that energy comes from the increasingly nervy colors he’s mixing up this time around. Raw red rubbing against peptic green, broad smears of construction zone yellow, wide blots of dense black erupting in milky spurts of violet. The mixtures feel raucous and random, like a freeway paint-spill gaily skittering across the asphalt, or the accumulated dribbles on a studio floor. They make for an unexpected kind of visual stimulation--totally self-contained and enamored of the act of creation, while invigorated by the sensual pleasures of paint.

Paint is the viscera of Hollingsworth’s images and he sets it before us in writhing, slippery narratives of making and unmaking. The enlarged scale of his painterly swabs and blots, smears and linear crawls demands we see the paint for what it is, in all its material beauty. But it’s a beauty growing increasingly rough and disinterested in suggesting pleasure outside of its own physicality. At a time when so much art is trying so hard to charm an audience saturated by media, image and pandering, visual stimulation with this kind of disinterested beauty hits like a Zen slap of cold water. Refreshing.