"Painting the Moment" by William Zimmer, New York Times contributing critic. May 1998
The paintings made by Laura Hohlwein in the 1990s reveal distinct shifts in content and philosophy from her previous work. This change indicates growing confidence, for she has risked a pleasant mode of art-making for a more difficult one. The new mode was signaled by her letting go of the figure, which had been the dominant and dramatic presence in her art.
Hohlweins true and abiding subject is light, and she invokes it literally. In the past she constructed light-boxes dependent on electric light. Her new works rely on the effects of natural light. She now paints often on Lexan, the proprietary name for a very sturdy plexiglas. Because these compositions are painted on the back of sheets of Lexan, they appear to the viewer in reverse, but more importantly, her glassy and highly reflective matrixes mean that her imagery appears to float or be suspended, rather than firmly fixed. She often makes double-layered paintings, where the force of her new way of working is enhanced by pairing a composition on Lexan, serving as the front layer, with an under layer visible at the back of a thick frame. Similarly, in her large abstractions on canvas, one peers through layers of paint into a space that seems to be in flux and thereby suggests a larger space moving outside the confines of the canvas.
Hohlweins renunciation of figuration is all the more compelling at this juncture in the contemporary art world. Too little attention is paid to Abstraction, which is often regarded as a period style rather a major achievement of the 20th century: a new and wider way of seeing. Many younger artists and much of the cultured public tend to disregard as irrelevant the achievements New York School, and the belief that an artist could record his or her immediate feelings spontaneously on canvas finds few adherents today (and it must be Hohlweins most recent paintings are more traditional oil on canvas, but they would lack the authority they have if she had not explored light in the literal manner she did previously.
The light in these paintings is a strong inner light, opaque, yet effulgent enough to illuminate the clusters of shapes that swim and cascade over them. These shapes are firm, concerted and confident.The work remains elusive and mysterious. Clear mystery, residing in a straightforward presentation, is the most potent sort. Yet the diaphanous ground means that the shapes, for all their clarity, cannot be grasped. Again, the abstraction is like language. The shapes might be inflections that rise and fall; they communicate, yet like spoken words, are different each time they are considered. Perhaps the grandest of the new paintings is "Reading Room". The title both instructs viewers that the subject is language, but here "room" not only means secure confines, but an expanse of space [ ... ] in which consciousness is made physical in paint.H
Hohlweins earlier art should not be slighted. It has a received grandeur and nobility, due to its subject matter. Some of the works depicted classical statuary; others feature the quite opposite imagery of Louis Hine who photographed Americas underclass. Some of the light boxes recalled stained glass, and a viewer might be reminded of the art in Americas Gilded Age. But now, instead of reproducing sublime subjects, Laura Hohlwein, with her own communicable pre-occupations and meditations, has become her own sublime subject. The possibiities ahead of her are infinite.