Loie Hollowell - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I want my paintings to be experiential. I want them to take the viewer into a phenomenological space of sensual pleasure. I want them to bring the viewer into the present […] and into their own space‚ within their body. I want the work to be felt on a physical level.” 
    —Loie Hollowell

    Combining geometric precision, sensually luminous textures, and a deeply felt sensitivity to bodily form, Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown is a powerful expression of American artist Loie Hollowell’s distinctive visual language. Occupying a space between figuration and abstraction, Hollowell reimagines the female body as a space of infinite expansion and possibility, her ‘unflinchingly direct paintings […] echoing a long tradition of feminist painters who claimed the female body for their gender’s own demesne.’i


    Visually, Hollowell’s luminous paintings recall American artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s softly undulating landscapes, although whereas O’Keeffe famously distanced herself from readings of her work as erotic abstractions of bodily form, Hollowell is more explicit in their corporeal connections, explaining: ‘My work is an expression of my core sensuality. I’m a body experiencing desire, experiencing pleasure. It is sensual and needy and dirty and expressive.’ii  In this respect, Hollowell’s biomorphic abstractions also resonate with the positive view of female sexuality taken by artists such as British Surrealist Ithell Colquhoun, whose paintings frequently employed a playful doubling of natural forms with more suggestive bodily correlates, in defiance of the social mores of her own time.


    Georgia O’Keeffe, Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918, Whitney Museum of Art, New York. Image: Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala, Artwork: © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London 2023

    Concentrating on Contractions


    Deeply personal and autobiographic, the present work is a mesmerising example of the artist’s Split Orb series first embarked upon in 2019, a sculptural and sequential body of work which chronicles the physical, emotional, and psychological experience of childbirth across a series of transcendental abstractions. Following the passage of the female body through birth and the slow dilation of the cervix from one to ten centimetres, the series is characterised by the ‘split orbs’ of the title, which the artist has described as a means of abstracting both the physical space of her labouring body and the seemingly distinct space of her conscious mind.

    "All of a sudden, everything was clear. I saw the round shapes, a head, a belly. And then I suddenly knew that this series would be limited to the very precise period of maybe two hours. Two hours of pressing, pain, relaxing, and pressing."
    —Loie Hollowell

    Adding an unexpectedly dimensional element that confounds any straightforward reading of the painting’s depth and surface, Hollowell first models her orbs using digital 3-D rendering tools, which are then milled out of high-density foam and covered with a thin, smooth layer of acrylic paint. Blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture, these protrusions not only establish compelling contradictions between flatness and depth, but viscerally manifest the physical sensations of the body opening with each contraction.


    Running like a seam through the work and connecting the two orbs, the central spine of pure white light in the present work vividly communicates the intense physicality of this experience and the ‘universal knowledge that between the moments of absolute tension and expenditure of energy, there must also be the moments of relaxation.’iii Although physically distinct, mind and body are in total alignment in these moments, emphasised by Hollowell’s exquisite sense of tone, colour, and gradient. While these central passages alternate between ‘the white light of rest and the dark light of contraction’, the fluctuations across the series from saturated to softer, more muted tones radiating outward in concentric circles replicate the shifts in consciousness from one contraction to the next, vividly recalling modernist poet Mina Loy’s powerful treatment of the timeless subject.
    “I am the centre
    Of a circle of pain
    Exceeding its boundaries in every direction”
    —Mina Loy, ‘Parturition’

    The throbbing sensations of Loy’s poem as it proceeds through broken lines of free verse is visually realised here, the concentration of intense, purple hues most pronounced at the widest areas of the split, the waves of mauves and browns softening as they radiate outwards. As the artist describes, ‘As my cervix opened the contractions became more intense; my conscious mind was unable to process the pain. I turned completely inward and the outside world vanished. Thus in the paintings that depict these moments I used muted tones like mauves and beiges for the orb’s radiations.’iv Possessing the transcendental, otherworldly qualities of Hilma af Klint’s spiritual abstractions, Hollowell’s Split Orbs carry us into the timeless and universal, while remaining absolutely rooted in the lived experience of the body, both thematically and spatially.


    Left: Detail of the present work
    Right: Hilma af Klint, Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece (Altarbild), 1915, The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Building on the original series of nine Split Orb paintings, the present work was included in Contractions, Hollowell’s 2022 presentation of five further works from the series with PACE in Palm Beach. An important body of work, a sister painting from this series, Split orbs in mauve, red, and teal is now held in the permanent collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.  While the earlier works focussed more closely on the durational and meditative aspects of the series - charting the act of giving birth from one canvas to another and moving steadily towards the climactic moment – these more recent works represent a maturation in Hollowell’s practice, demonstrating her increasingly sophisticated approach to symbolic geometries, colour, and chromatic balance. Even more recently, the artist returned to her Split Orb series for inspiration as she prepared to enter into the digital space for the first time, these works forming the thematic basis for her first NFT project, Contractions launched in October 2022 with Pace Verso. The seller will be donating a proportion of the proceeds of the sale of Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown  to the charity Vital Voices.


     Loie Hollowell’s Transcendent Bodies, Art21 ‘New York Close Up’, 2021.



    Collector’s Digest


    • The present work belongs to Hollowell’s Split Orb series, works from which have been presented at PACE and König Galerie, Berlin. Based on the artist’s experience of childbirth this series has also formed the conceptual basis for the artist’s first NFT series.

    • In addition to her participation in a range of group and solo exhibitions held across the United States, Europe, and Britain, Hollowell was the subject of an exhibition at Shanghai’s Long Museum in 2021, her first in mainland China.

    • Hollowell’s works are widely collected, with examples now held in major international collections including the Arts Council in England, the Long Museum in Shanghai, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C, amongst others. A sister work, Split orbs in mauve, red and, teal now belongs to the permanent collection of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 


    i Genevieve Allison, ‘Loie Hollowell, Feuer / Messler’, Artforum, Fall 2016, online.  

    ii Loie Hollowell, quoted in ‘There is Always That Hunting: See How Artist Loie Hollowell’s Bodily Abstractions Reach for the Light Even When Confronting Dark Subjects’, Artnet News, 22 December 2022, online.

    iii Loie Hollowell, quoted in Iris Cushing and Anneli Botz, ‘Loie Hollowel | The Scared Contract’, König Galerie Magazine, online.

    iv Loie Hollowell, quoted in ‘Loie Hollowell on painting, pain, and her second birth’, Artforum, 26 May 2021, online.

    • Provenance

      Pace Gallery, Palm Beach
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Palm Beach, Pace Gallery, Loie Hollowell: Contractions, 1 – 13 March 2022



Split Orbs in purple, ochre, and brown

signed, titled and dated '"Split Orbs in purple, mars violet, and yellow" 2021 Loie Hollowell "Split orbs in purple, mars violet, and yellow" Loie Hollowell 2021' [sic] on the reverse
oil, acrylic and high-density foam on linen laid on panel
121.9 x 91.4 x 9.5 cm (47 7/8 x 35 7/8 x 3 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £635,000

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+44 20 7318 4060

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023