The visitor to Christopher Cutts Gallery encounters a treasure of vibrantly coloured drawings and paintings. On the walls of the two spacious rooms are two arrays of dozens of small works on paper and canvas. There are as well fourteen other paintings, most of which are both in oil and acrylic. It is a struggle to make sense of them all. The works consist of both figures and landscapes that are perhaps most readily described as surrealist. They variously lie somewhere between illustrations of fairy tales in the traditional German Märchen of brothers Grimm – set in forested landscapes – and intimate automatic drawings extracted from Holcová’s unconscious.
Installation view of Veronika Holcová, Fantasmagoria,2018 at Christopher Cutts Gallery
Holcová hails from the Czech Republic. She has exhibited extensively there and in other countries in Europe. And so she brings a less familiar aesthetic to her work from a Canadian perspective. Her principal influences are surrealism and German romanticism. Her surrealist influences, it seems, also derive from literature. Some of her previous works have alluded to the Japanese magical realist author Haruki Murakami, for example. At its core Holcová’s work falls within the tradition of symbolism, an art movement that reached its height during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Symbolism is defined by its rejection of the objectively based depiction of the world in favour of creating works of art that depict the imaginary world of the artist – springing from her dreams, spiritual experiences etc. I emphasise the word ‘world’ because each artist, as a distinct subject, of course depicts her own interior one. So there are as many worlds as artists. The struggle in making sense of her work in the exhibition, therefore, involves being confronted by Holcová’s particular world with all its idiosyncrasies.
Veronika Holcová, Handspring, 2017 Acrylic on panel 16 x 12 inches
In a way, however, the artist does not intend for the viewer to make sense of her works at all. Her stated aim is to make art in an indeliberate manner, and instead to channel whatever ‘comes out’. In this sense, following surrealism, she embraces the irrational. In an earlier artist talk she explains how making her drawings is a kind of therapy. Holcová sees herself as clearing out the private contents of her unconscious – bringing out, à la Freudian psychoanalysis, what was hidden from her. The result is consequently often erotic in nature, e.g., her Handspring. Even she is surprised by what she produces.
Veronika Holcová, Waterman, 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas. 85 x 61 inches
Yet, the largest paintings in this exhibition – Waterman and Fantasmagoria – are executed over a long period of time, and as a result are much more worked out. Each of these two paintings is extremely detailed. She appears to begin by applying a thin layer of diluted paint that in places drips down the canvas, producing a delicately mottled surface. On top of this she applies a variety of more or less opaque layers. In addition she adds fine details of trees, plants and tiny figures over the surface. The result is a rich beautiful image, one suited to slow contemplation.
Veronika Holcová, Fantasmagoria, 2018 Oil and acrylic on canvas 61 x 86 inches
The experience of looking at these two paintings, especially, reminds me of that of viewing the paintings of the German romanticist artist Caspar David Friedrich – someone that Holcová is no doubt influenced by. Friedrich’s paintings are likewise meticulously detailed and his imagery is largely invented. The resulting artifice I find falls short in that it lacks the surprise of form that nature throws up. His trees in particular look stiff. I have a similar reaction to Holcová’s works. But this is in the end a quibble. Friedrich’s paintings are still masterpieces. Likewise, Holcová has produced a series of stunning works. Her subjectively based imagery produces its own surprises for the viewer.
Images are courtesy of Christopher Cutts Gallery
*Exhibition information: Veronika Holcová, Fantasmagoria, November 24 – December 22, 2018, Christopher Cutts Gallery, 21 Morrow Ave, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 10 am – 6 pm.