Aaron Holz’s ‘Cannonball’ mixes landscape with geometry, atmosphere and symbolism

by L. Kent Wolgamott featured in the Lincoln Journal Star

The paintings in “Cannonball,” the Kiechel Fine Arts solo exhibition of Aaron Holz, are landscapes rooted in the area and events surrounding Wounded Knee and Standing Rock.

But the South Dakota and North Dakota scenes are transformed by layers of oil paint and resin, deftly handled paint, geometric patterns and the potent symbols of flags, becoming dynamic visual experiences in their own right.

Linked to the similarly structured work in “Wider Than the Sky,” Holz’s 2015 exhibition that drew on Emily Dickinson and Albert Pinkham Ryder, the “Cannonball” paintings take that concept a step further, introducing issues of land and western expansion, Native rights and conflicts into the dense, atmospheric mix.

The most direct of those pieces is “Flag at Pine Ridge (AIM),” which finds the American Indian Movement flag hanging in the middle of the painting, as if it is on the fence that surrounds the Wounded Knee graveyard, linking past and present while it literally transforms the area by adding water to the landscape.

Also very straightforward and symbolically pointed are a pair of beautifully rendered depictions of a prairie rose, the North Dakota state flower, a stark contrast to the darkness of both events and landscape captured at Standing Rock, the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp.

In some of the paintings, the features of the landscape can be easily detected — “Turtle Island I,” for example, the turtle shape of a hump and a head can clearly be made out across the center of the canvas. By “Turtle Island III,” however, the shape has receded under the layers of painting and geometric patterns that seem to be flying across the canvas.

There are a handful of notable works in “Cannonball,” including “Summer Camp, Cannonball,” which departs from the palette of blues and browns to explode in bright yellow; “Water’s Edge,” a direct look into the pond or river of the title; and the dense, dark view of “Nightfall.”

But the masterwork of the show is “Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee North),” an oil painting with no resin that combines the landscape, geometric symbols, flags and atmosphere into a brilliantly rendered piece that blurs the lines between realism and abstraction, demonstrates Holz’s painting skill and is continually revealing, offering something new each time it is seen.

“Cannonball,” it must be noted, includes “Symbol Shift,” a single-channel video that pulls the flags, many from Native tribes, and other symbols — many of which are obscured in the deeply layered paintings — and projects them on the gallery wall, creating the context for the direct interpretation of richly rewarding show.

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