ESSAY ON DON HOLZSCHUH
DELIVERY TRUCK 2000
While some artists live in their own creative worlds,Don Holzschuh makes his art in the world that
surrounds each of us when we walk out the door. The paintings in this exhibit reflect his total openness
to that world and his talent for reacting to it on canvas.
Holzschuh portrays hardware stores,tattoo shops,bridges,drive-ins,and downtown office blocks. He
needs remarkably few strokes to bring out the convincing physical presence of
cars,trees,buildings,forklifts,stoplights,truck trailers,dollies,and MTC buses. He achieves an unusual
mixture of what at times seems to border on a naive or cartoon style, together with an immediate and
earthly feeling of realism. This combination of styles has its own history.
Three periods are discernible in Holzschuh's work,and they overlap to a degree. In the 1980's
Holzschuh's art was characterized by audacious colors and spontaneous style that was primitive and
yet showed flashes of sophistication. The second stage developed through the 1990s as he refined
his style in the direction of greater naturalism,especially in the rural landscape subjects.
He often kept his unpredictable palette and robust brushwork,but he paid more attention to the images
anchored by under drawing and embodied in earth tones. He took several painting trips to France and
Recently Holzschuh has synthesized these two periods. He has again sped up his delivery, brightened
his palette into deeply rich hues, and loosened his rendering with more improvised touches. Despite
this, however, his pictures still make an impression of compelling naturalism.
There's a movement and vibration of life in Holzschuh's images that echo the way our surroundings hit
us as we experience them on the street. You sense the restlessness in the trees or bushes and feel the
unpredictability of random, one-time moments. There are great varieties of reflected light: the flash off
a skyscraper window; shadowy reflections off an apartment window beneath some trees; or the dull
sheen off a hubcap.
These paintings are free of social rhetoric. Homeless people sprawl like picnickers on a traffic island
under lush, graceful trees. And although he feels that Minneapolis is losing many structures that are full
of character and history, only to replace them with "glass square buildings," Holzschuh doesn't judge
these new buildings. They have their own presence and liveliness and are welcomed next to their brick
and stone neighbors.
More importantly, there's no aesthetic rhetoric in a Holzschuh picture. He does not hunt down that
quaintly picturesque vista. Instead we see an ordinary used car lot, humbly festive with its rows of
colored banners. We're not made aware of standard, form defining points of perspective. Instead,
Holzschuh's scene's have as unforced formal organization inherent in their roof lines, intersecting
streets, corners of buildings,sections of sky,or rising diagonal sidewalks. The effect is organic more
than geometric; and inanimate objects, like cars, often acquire a boisterous animation.
Although Holzschuh has done larger paintings in the studio, in smaller formats he prefers to work on
location. Here he attempts to finish a painting in a single sitting and says that this way the picture is
more"complete," a more unified expression of a single creative experience.
This approach descends from an overlooked art-historical dialogue between modernism and what
might be called the sketch or sketch-like work-what Bernard Berenson called the "sketchy sketch"-as
an art work in itself, not just as a preparatory step toward a carefully set-up and crafted studio painting.
This development coincided roughly with the rise of open-air painting. Both had about them a sense of
urgency that revealed the fundamental creative instincts of the artist in a flourish of intensity. Later on, a
not very different notion inspired expressionist painters and went on to become a working assumption
for many artists of the twentieth century,abstract expressionists and others.
Clement Greenberg saw an internalized power of nature as the creative inspiration of the artist,
expressing itself with unselfconscious assurance. A similar notion infused Robert Motherwell's
"psychic automatism" and Hans Hofmann creativity as something that best unfolds in a single inspired
act. Hofmann influenced Holzschuh during the latter's period of study with Jerry Lefevre. In Holzschuh,
you see original characteristics of the sketch aesthetic returning to a contemporary open-air painter,
but only after they have been transformed by modernism. He keeps modernism's trust in speed,
intuition,and integrity of the single creative act. But instead of seeing this as a direct emanation of
some autonomous creative psyche, Holzschuh lets it work itself out in a second-to-second interaction
with all the hubbub and stimuli of the city street.
This permits Holzschuh's art to become a genuine revelation of place. The French writer Guy de
Maupassant wrote:" As a rule we never use our eyes expect with the remembrance of what others
have already thought of the things we see. To describe a blazing fire, tree in a plain,it is necessary to
stand face to face with that fire or that tree until to us they are totally unlike any other fire or tree. In this
way we may become original."
For writer or artist, this act is much,much more difficult than it might seem. It requires stamina and
receptiveness. Too many painters do know in advance what they will see when they go outside.
Perhaps Edward Hopper haunts them,instructing them to cast urban landscapes in an estranged,
all-too-familiar melancholy. Or they leave the city in search of that 1930s grain elevator,that old
weathered barn, that pasture of 17th century Dutch cows, or fields and skies they can break down into
dreamy, commercial semi-abstraction.
Holzschuh has not indulged in pre-discovered visions. He has spent long hours energetically
absorbing the atmosphere on the boulevards, in back alleys, along bustling downtown sidewalks,
beside lakes, before loading docks,and on neighborhood commercial corners. And he's captured
these experiences on can vases that are alive ith their own beauty and individuality. In this way, to
paraphrase de Maupassant, Don Holzschuh has indeed become an original.
THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN BY DOUG HANSON FOR A CATALOG OF DON HOLZSCHUH'S
EXHIBIT AT FLANDERS CONTEMPORARY ART, MINNEAPOLIS ,MINNESOTA IN2004.