Life lines: Holston shapes a colorful view

Reading the paper, cutting up vegetables, playing chess in the park, or just sitting on a fence— these are the everyday moments Joseph Holston abstracts in his etchings and paintings. But the easygoing subject matter comes with a pedigree; one glance at Holsten’s work, currently on view at Warm Springs Gallery, and his early 20th-century influences are evident: cubism à la Picasso and Braque, pared-down colorful shapes à la Matisse, combined with a pinch of Blue Rider School here and a dash of Bauhaus there.

Drawing from the same rich well as painter Jacob Lawrence in depicting African-American life, Holston offers a distinct aesthetic, letting lines run from one shape to another to create a harmonious whole. The seven large paintings in the Warm Springs exhibition, “Asymmetry and Abstraction,” jump with geometric areas of vivid color that Holston creates by laying one hue over another with energetic brush strokes— orange over fuchsia, green over blue.

Holston’s way of eliding line and shape in both his large oils and small acrylics yields the impression of stained glass windows, where the lines serve as leading between colorful panes. This effect is particularly beautiful in “Nude Relaxin’,” which calls to mind both Picasso and Matisse. Luminous orange lines outline the shapes in the background and then continue through to define the basic shapes of the reclining black figure, who languidly rests on one elbow, her curved hip arcing gracefully into the air.

The shapes and colors in Holston’s paintings are so bold it’s easy to overlook the artist’s attention to small details that enhance the works’ overall effect. For instance, in “Nude Relaxin’,” Holston scratches a thin white trail over the outlines of the nude, which brings the figure forward, creating a separate plane from the background.

In his etchings, Holston includes more details, occasionally giving his figures stylized faces instead of reducing their heads to shapes in the composition. He also plays with light, shadow, and pattern, even as he keeps his geometric elements flat. For instance, in “Woman Fixin’ Dinner,” an area of negative space, bordered by lace, reads as a bright window casting light on an abstracted woman as she works over a cutting board resting on a checkered tablecloth. The content is sweet and nostalgic, although Holston’s treatment of it is modern.

His subjects may be accessibly ordinary, but Holston opens eyes with extraordinary abstract shape and line.

Joseph Holston’s exhibition, “Asymmetry and Abtraction,” is on view through April 14 at Warm Springs Gallery, 105 Third St. NE. 245-0800.



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