Holton Rower: New Orleans Art Review – Winter 2012


HOLTON ROWER: Love Heals – August 2012 Exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery

Holton Rower: The Glory of Oysters, 2012. Paint on plywood, 102 inches high.

Welcome to the witty, whimsical world of Holton Rower’s Love Heals where dynamically asymmetric compositions composed of concentric, cruciform waves of color with sometimes wacky and delightfully zany names as simple as Birthday Apple and Ontological Relief and as enigmatic as Too Many Zippers Till Being Naked Just Plain Saved Time and Ice Packs And Advil Sure Help But Emotional Calm Is A Deeper Remedy with dimensions ranging from a minimum of fifty-eight inches in one dimension by a maximum of one hundred forty-four inches in another and one and one fourth to eleven and one half inches in depth. Employing a unique technique of poured paint on shaped plywood grounds that situates Rower in the subgroup of post-painterly abstraction’s Frankenthaler, process art’s Benglis, and hard-edge minimalism’s Stella in which the artist achieves a balance between accident and control with a sense of humor that locates him in another subgroup inhabited by the cheekiness of Arneson, the wry wit of Harry Who, the playfulness of Calder, and the suggestiveness of Murray, Rower has created a body of work that alternately and simultaneously delights, fascinates, and titillates the viewer’s imagination with multiple analogical interpretations.

Untold Wealth In Your Back Pocket With You Unawares, one of the larger works measuring one hundred six by one hundred eight and one half by eleven and one half inches, is shaped like an animated Maltese cross about to give birth, with huge lobular ends like mushrooms on the sides of rotting trees in the forest, growing out from a central red lozenge shape with rounded comers and concave sides, iterated in expanding waves of color cascading across the surfaces and down the sides of two small squares, expanding peripherally in each directions – upwards, downwards, to the left, and to the right – like the leaves of a fabulous psychedelic shamrock with striations like a cross section of the aforesaid tree trunk, as the colors shift from bright reds and greens in the center to alternating tongue-like bands of orange and blue, widening into variations of maroons and lighter tones, bands of oranges, yellows, and yellow oranges, expanding into ever wider and narrower lines of pale earth tones, in seventy, eighty, and more concentric waves, while, beginning at the comers of the innermost square that frames the core lozenge, multicolored streams of mostly yellows and greens expand outwards as a counter force to the centrifugal waves described above, pressing in on the sides of the cruciform lobes with the lateral thrust of their flows, restricting the main streams’ expansion until both streams reach the edges of the larger square where, plunging over the edge, the main streams of the cross overwhelm the diagonal flows, compressing the secondary streams into narrow paths as the four major chords assert their dominance. For the viewer the effect is that of a slowly expanding, ineluctable rhythmic crescendo that involves the viewer in the rhythmic oppositions of centrifugal and centripetal forces.

In other works, Rower has cut circular openings into the plywood ground in which objects were placed, impeding and deflecting the flow of paint. The four lobes of Birthday Apple are oriented differently from that of Untold Wealth… , defining intersecting diagonal axes. The positioning of the four circular openings at the cardinal points results in turbulence patterns around these vertical and horizontal points such that the main direction of expansion moves on the diagonals, creating a large biomorphic X. The reliance on openings instead of stacked shapes results in a gentler outward expansion, from the opalescent center to ever darker bands, until bright orange marks the area of transition where the flow of paint first encounters the openings, redirecting movement like water passing around a midstream rock, and, in the exuberance of overcoming the obstacle, thrusting outwards in waves of alternating pale pinks and blacks, lilacs and purples, and blues. The effect is a sensation of flowing expansion, of deep relief, while in the space downstream from the rocks, chaotic streams of greens rise to fill the vacuum like subterranean rivers issuing from below the earth to aboveground. The beautiful color patterns could be those of a hitherto unknown pastel agate or the concentric waves emulating sound in Dove’s Foghorns.

With its dynamic asymmetry, strong diagonal accent, and irregular lobes, the large The Glory Of Oysters, almost but not quite seven by eight feet, does indeed resemble a gorgeous oyster shell, the close tonal range of colors mimicking the nacreous harmonies of pearls, the pullulating circumferential rhythms the growth rings radiating from the center outwards, circumscribing the openings, and ending in iridescent alluvial delta fans such as one might envision after ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms. One’s eyes are constantly moving, around the center, inwards and outwards, and back again, enraptured in chromatic fantasy, a joyous epiphany experienced by the viewer if not by the oyster that has been consumed. The dynamic color patterns are like the iridescent cytoplasm of an amoeba circumambulating objects as it reaches out with foot-like extensions to move along the wall.

In other paintings, the artist experiments with combining strong diagonals without holes. In Southern Boy Makes Good, a quiet center of wide bands of cool blues and subdued red slowly expands until, suddenly, bifurcations of color spurt outwards in four directions in shock waves and eruptions of color. Areas of turbulence contrast with arrhythmic expansions in chaotic asymmetry, jarring notes, and discordant tones, creating a feeling of explosive, frenetic movement as if a firecracker had exploded in the southern boy’s underwear. As one moves closer, the substance of the paint has a succulent, visceral quality, surfaces glistening like organs coated with coelic membrane. The vibrant asymmetric concentricity of Too Many Zippers Till Being Naked Just Plain Saved Time and the contrast between the regularity of pattern and the chaotic surfaces in the light of the narrative implication of the title expressions of a sense of humor akin to that of Joan Mitchell or Elizabeth Murray.

The dynamic character of color and composition, asymmetry, irregularity of edges, stressed surfaces and edges like the shredded wings of a monarch butterfly after buffeting by a windstorm, clashing contrasts of cool icy colors at the center and superheated color contrasts in the peripheral zones of Ice Packs And Advil Sure Help But Emotional Calm Is A Deeper Remedy are like a magnetic resonance image of a headache or detailed view of a Doppler image of a major migraine produced by the NOAA.

The Time A Surgeon Had To Remove A Fish Bone Lodged in My Tracheais an interesting analog to the human form, a solarized multiple exposure of a dance performance, a figure leaping in the air, a superhero bursting into a scene expressed through an irregular radial symmetry, and the interplay between voluptuous rhythms and sensuous surfaces in the delightfully confounding cognitive dissonance between visual form and suggestive name. Pattern disintegrates into chaos like a talus field at the base an eroded mesa in Ontological Relief. Layers of color evoke associations with chromatically enriched topological maps of eroded mesas that reveal the sedimentary layers that were once ancient seabeds.

Working with a deep understanding of nature of paint as physical substance (viscosity, surface tension, rate of drying et cetera) and the effect of physical forces on the fluid medium, Rower has created a delightful body of work. For the naive viewer, they are a source of fascination and pleasure with their dynamic color compositions. The technically minded can appreciate how the artist has explored myriad possibilities for deploying the medium. The intellectual will discover analogies reflecting geological phenomena both physical and dynamic and their representation in various forms of mapping. The poetic will see these analogies as metaphors enabling deeper and richer levels of understanding that may extend beyond the work itself. And there will those who may experience Rower’s paintings on all these levels, and perhaps find other modes of appreciation.


Holton Rower: Untold Wealth In Your Back Pocket With You Unawares, 2010. Paint on plywood. 106 inches high