Drawing from personal experience, the Northern Californian, New-York based Loie Hollowell captures the physical effects of motherhood on the female body whist also evoking the otherworldly and spiritual planes reached during and after childbirth. Through the casting of pregnant bodies and presenting their shapes on canvas, Hollowell’s work is unapologetically raw, combining realism and abstraction to portray the intimacy of maternity. Her artwork is fiercely vulnerable, excitingly playful, and mesmerisingly multi-dimensional.
Before we get started, how has your week been going so far?
My three year old son said fuck for the first time and my husband and I thought it was pretty hilarious.
Your influences include artists such as Agnes Lawrence Pelton, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Judy Chicago. Who else would you include on this list?
The Neo-Tantric artists of the 60s and 70s in India have been a super important influence in my practice, specifically G.R. Santosh and Mahirwan Mamtani.
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Milk tree © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
You are very open about your experiences as a mother in your art, both during pregnancy and afterwards. Would you say other mothers are a large target audience for your work?
I would say yes. Specifically because I am my target audience and most of my close artist friends are also parents of young kids and so my community of critics is also my audience.
In contrast to your previous exhibitions, your most recent works more explicitly protrude from the canvas as if they’re grasping for a life of their own. Did you enjoy experimenting with medium in this way? Was this something you had always planned to do?
In my more recent work I’ve taken casts of myself and friends’s pregnant bodies, in the third trimester at our most ripe form and glued them on to panels. This was never a foreseen direction in my work but the feeling of being pregnant and giving birth was such an overpowering experience that I felt I had to use those forms that came from me and my community as conceptual and formal elements to work upon in my practice. I have enjoyed taking these casts and incorporating them in my work because it has brought me even closer to my subject matter.
Both of your parents being artists, how do you think your own childhood experiences have impacted your experiences as a mother and therefore your art?
My mum was a full-time mother and made her art on the side so I didn’t have a model of being a full-time working artist and therefore I was very hesitant to have kids and waited until I had secure income before deciding to try to get pregnant. With respect to my own parents I knew that I would be more selfish than my own mum and knew that I wanted more time in the studio, so my career came first but that’s not to say that I have any judgement for those who had or choose to put family first. One choice is not better than the other.
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Milk Spine © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
The works you have completed in the past heavily incorporated symbolic shapes such as the mandorla, ogee, and lingam. However, your most recent pieces are much more physical. The main form which you choose to depict is the female breast, why is this?
I decided to start working with and casting actual bodies and putting them in the paintings because I wanted to feel a more immediate connection to my own body, and as a way to continuously process the experience of being pregnant and giving birth. At the moment I am trying to figure out how to incorporate my abstracted lexicon of mandorlas, ogees and such into the realism of cast pregnant bodies.
Would you agree that your previous pieces aimed to explore your experiences during childbirth, whist your new works detail your experience of the postpartum period?
Those two experiences are currently being explored simultaneously in my work in that they both happened to me so recently. I haven’t finished examining birthing, and the experience of giving birth is inextricably linked to my postpartum self.
You have described giving birth as leaving one version of yourself behind and moving toward another. Does this idea reappear within your art as you create successive collections, or do you feel like your pieces are part of a larger whole?
It is hard as an artist to look at ones career in any kind of whole or totality in that in the studio I’m just trying to be present with the work. That being said, to be honest, I am at the moment having some trouble seeing my past work, current cast bodies, and my not-so-distant more abstracted paintings as being a larger whole. So I guess in a way it has been like giving birth, where I left my old self behind and I’m trying to figure out who I am now.
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In the act of conception © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
The use of light and shadow within your pieces produces an illusionistic effect which forces the viewer to move around the canvas. Would you say your work is intended to challenge the viewers perspective, forcing the viewer to experience the female form from multiple angles?
Within my paintings there’s both an illusory light and actual play of light on the sculptural forms, and that duality is one of the aspects that I’m interested in pulling in a viewer with. And also for sure, I agree with the question, I’m definitely interested in encouraging the viewer to see the female form from multiple perspectives. But, that’s a happy byproduct of working within a low-relief painting space and not my driving factor for making the work.
Your recent collection is grounded in earthy tones apart from the large luminescent orbs which float through some of your pieces, for example Loosely Connected. What do these represent to you?
The earthy tones are to keep the cast bodies in the realistic space that they come from. The light filled orbs are the transportive element that is a kind of conceptual device that for me represents the open and vulnerable sensations that come along with being a new parent.
Are you working on anything at the minute?
I’m working on a show for Pace’s new Seoul gallery space and towards a few museum shows in California for 2023. I’m also in the process of trying to figure out how to make sculptures in the round as opposed to my sculpted paintings that sit on the wall.
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Eight Saints © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Fourteen Saints © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Milk tree © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Fourteen Saints © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Eight Saints © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Bellyscape and Plumb bob © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Milk tree © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.
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Bellyscape and Plumb bob © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.