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Dennis Hollingsworth
by Kerry Kugelman

Dennis Hollingsworth, "Centurions (Wet on Wet #11)" 1996

Giddy, Silly, Whoopy Cascades of Goopy Extruded Stuff

Delight is always an aspect of surprise, and thus can not be anticipated without dulling our ability to be caught off guard. Dennis Hollingsworth's new paintings tickle us and take us by surprise, a love of the physical wedded to a madcap sense of purpose. Given Hollingsworth's background, it might be tempting to see this group of new work as somehow referring to architecture, the studied factures of constructed spaces. Yet this new work transcends pat associations and reductive analyses. There is a riptide, an undertow in these paintings, that you don't feel until you have waded into the inviting surf, only to realize that you are in the grip of a sea-force, pulling you into its embrace. This is a child watching her first parade.

atoll (wet on wet #20)--all works from 1996--hums in drizzles of gentle color, beating a gentle tatoo on china-blue unguent shades, lagoons and reefs of spiny-bodied populations that sightlessly envision communities of delight. An echo of something lost, an ancient reverberation, as though hearing the ocean's roar in a shell; to hold these paintings to your eye is to hear the sound of wonder, an ascendant embrace of vast water.

Where earlier work dwelt on sublime, translucent passages that beguiled with the play of light through surfaces, Hollingsworth now lures us with the sheer physical presence of paint on canvas. There is no fussy imprimatur in this work; rather, a robust grappling with big paint. manic decalcomania skitters across these surfaces, the coupling of printmaking and painting. The results are graphic at a distance, at closer range, yielding to a sense of intimacy, a welter of circuitous detail and ornament that draws the eye in, and tempts the fingers with bristling, moist mounds of paint incestuously in love with its own bulge and mucous.

Yet, these are not the membranous folds and nooks of corpus simulacra, but something almost primal in its appeal to a shivery, indulgent touch--a tidal pool of undulating, festive urchins. A compelling physical motif appears in these paintings, small globs of paint, which Hollingsworth calls "monads," that have had their spherical surface teased out into spiny protrusions, giving them the look of miniature sea urchins, or ball cacti. These monads correspond to points of awareness in the cosmology depicted through these paintings, giving them the air of a whimsical didacticism.

que tal? (wet on wet #21) is a firework of color, a rain of teeming coral reef, the proliferation of a thousand sightless beings immersed in a warm amnion of muted color and oily carapace. In contrast to previous work, which offered oases and respites for the eyes, here are surfaces aching to be caressed and known with a deep touch. To gaze upon them feels almost transgressive (can a painting be undressed with the eye?). Unabashedly straightforward, these intricate causeways of medium are like a crazed "Gumby-fever-dream,"--melted books to dive into, as in reventilator (wet on wet #15a), a roiling switch-back of incised and layered color. Look at those decorative pastel colors! Has he no shame? This is frosting for a happy, decadent cake

Without a doubt the loci of energy in these paintings are the spiny little orbs that festoon the surface of so many of the works, and the terraced topography that marches across them. But delight is such a fleeting emotion if one attempts to capture it, and not all is sweetness and light. There is a sobering gravity that anchors Hollingsworth's best work, the sense of loss which inevitably becomes a moment of ecstasy: "tout les animaux sont triste apres joi." Unabashed glee and abandon, unbridled exuberance--his is information to be ingested, not read; experienced, not seen. It is like an exquisite net trolling the ocean of meaning that is the moment we view them. Intricate and brawling, these paintings challenge the sclerotic vein of art criticism that bleats of exhaustion in contemporary abstract painting. Directly engaging the vehicle of paint and color, Hollingsworth creates alluring topographies that delight and intrigue without the pretense of concept. Pleasure becomes paint.

Kerry Kugelman

Los Angeles, California
1996

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