Review: ‘All the Flowers’ turns blooms in LACMA artworks into a photogram bouquet of blue
Hadley Holliday's cyanotypes at Acme gallery must have Anna Atkins not turning but dancing in her grave, reveling in the beauty and ingenuity her legacy has wrought. Atkins pioneered use of the cyanotype process to make photograms of botanical specimens in the 1850s. Her work's power lies in its heart-stopping purity, the simplicity of pale silhouettes of algae, ferns and flowering plants floating within blue. Each of her images reflects the scale of its subject, scientific truth plus the haunting magic of a phantasm.
Holliday's riveting work builds on that foundation and to some extent other historical predecessors. Her pieces are physically encompassing — 78 inches by 51 inches each, and three times that wide for triptychs. They’re also ebullient from edge to edge.
Traces of plants and feathers, modest in their proportions, consort with giant blossoms, spirals and other patterns that Holliday paints, using cyanotype. There is continuity in the blues — from pale, watery sky to deepest Prussian — and gorgeous mayhem otherwise, a montage-like fracturing of forms and breathlessly destabilizing incongruity of scale. Sand that had been scattered across the paper, then exposed to light, yields images of granular white clouds, at once microcosmic matter and galactic tempests.
The hand-drawn representations of passion flowers, chrysanthemums and more that fill these sheets are based on sketches that Holliday made at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she has been collecting images of blossoms from works across time and the globe. She titles each work in her series "All the Flowers,” citing sources and LACMA departments she has drawn from (European porcelain, Agnes Martin, Hawaiian featherwork, the Japanese Pavilion), as well as the objects gathered and rendered as photograms (pebbles from Moonstone Beach in Cambria, burlap, pine needles from her yard, shells from Playa Vista). This is taxonomy not of science but of the spirit, a chronicle of the artist's private explorations and predilections.
In these lavish tapestries of shape, line and tone, Holliday honors both fidelity to appearance and improvisational freedom — the pencil of nature, as photography was first dubbed, and her own hand. The sensuality of the surfaces, with their richly mixed messages, is exhilarating. Ghostly translucence borders passages of crisp, descriptive opacity; the spectrum of blues conjures at once the aquatic and the celestial.
Cyanotypes and other early forms of photography have surged in popularity lately among artists — a response, at least in part, to the way digital technology has sucked the medium dry of its expressive materiality. Holliday exemplifies this invigorating trend toward restoration and innovation. Atkins — and the rest of us — have cause to rejoice.
Acme, 2939 Denby Ave., Los Angeles. Ends Saturday. (323) 741-0330, www.acmelosangeles.com
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