Recent paintings by Holly Coulis offer an unexpected twist on what many consider a thoroughly explored genre, the Still Life. Viewing the brightly painted works, Post Impressionist Maurice Denis’ often-quoted 1890 pronouncement, “that a painting – before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or an anecdote of some sort – is essentially a flat surface covered with colors, put together in a certain order,” invariably comes to mind. Upon viewing the exhibition “Days and Nights, Lemons,” one may be tempted to add Still Lifes to this list.
In her current body of work, Coulis continues the process of simplification found in her recent series. Examples of earlier works hung in the back room provide insight into the artist’s evolution from portraits set off with elements of still lifes and abstract patterns, a sort of Klimt-meets-Katz sensibility, to sparsely populated still lifes void of human presence. Using a color scheme any of the Fauves would envy, the artist plays with nuanced complementary color schemes, to portray deceptively simple scenes of fruits, knives, bowls and cups. The inanimate objects are rendered as flat shapes—asparagus green pears, brilliant yellow lemons, cobalt blue pitchers—outlined in concentric, bands of contrasting color. Many of the works present multiple points-of-view at once, with side views of the key players juxtaposed against aerial vantage points. At once flat and illusionistic, the parts fit together in a seamless puzzle.
The formerly Brooklyn-based artist recently relocated to Athens, GA and completed a temporary 14-by-20 foot mural, titled Dishes and Fruits (2016), at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. A precursor to the Los Angles exhibition, the composition, viewed head on, is bisected horizontally with the simplicity of solid objects of the “real world” complicated by translucent reflections. Back at Cherry and Martin, the strategy is further complicated in works such as Large Lemons, Stripes and Knives (2017), where scale distorts and reflections spar with objects to confuse the viewer’s ability to sort things out. Showing a relentless appetite for experimentation, Coulis leaves us wanting a second course.