Oliver Hawk Holden
Opening Reception 20 July 7-10p
20 July - 12 August
R/SF projects is pleased to present SYSTEM, WACK, a solo exhibition of new work by Oliver Hawk Holden. Having never worked at this scale before, Holden’s newest body of work is a testament to his ever-expanding lexicon of cultural iconography. SYSTEM, WACK holds a mirror to the subtle ironies of Americana by drawing contrasts between the not-so-distant past and our current cultural realities. Holden’s practice stems from his childhood fixation with San Francisco, namely its characteristic renegade spirit, as well as an ongoing investigation with the way wry humor unearths raw truths. Throughout the gallery, the 12 wall works, and 6 sculptural works further embody a delicately crafted survey of California microcultures, ever-so-aptly juxtaposed with shifting notions of labor, vocation, and industry. Holden negotiates the city’s rapidly morphing landscape against his romanticized memories of bygone eras, serving up candid yet understated vignettes infused with a banal humor.
Big Billy, a towering fifteen-foot sculpture, imposes upon the viewer from every vantage point, both inside and outside the gallery. His stature references the forgotten roadside attractions of small town locales, once celebrated for their massive scale and ability to woo passing travelers.Today, these statues are desolate monuments of blue collar nobility, now overshadowed by technological innovation and the proverbial freelancer.
Drawing from his immediate surroundings to portray anecdotal tableaux, Holden acts as the outcast observer who is nevertheless enmeshed within the same system, harnessing the interplay between disparate symbols and text. On a trip to Bolinas through Marin County he was struck by the hobbyist cyclists decked out in ultra-slick and expensive gear, with slightly lost or panicked looks on their faces...”looking like a nascar, for no reason.” The painting Cyclist II bears that phrase, its pared down color palette drawing particular attention to the figures’ flashy outfits and carefully rendered black and white caricatures, gesturing to the scene’s absurdity.
Holden’s chosen materials are similarly sourced from his vicinity—from the trash of museums where he’s worked as a preparator, or from friends’ discarded art projects, to scraps from lumber yards by his Bayview studio and cast-off pieces from his job as a fabricator in SoMa. His decision to employ these as building materials is as much about their charged status as it is about resourceful making; evidenced in his pub-inspired dog diptych Lumpy’s Pub, rough knots of the old plywood emphatically inform the craggy and seemingly windswept terrain.
Upstairs, nearly half the exhibition space is reserved for work by his friends,* with sculptures and paintings nestled atop and around two pedestals adorned with the words “Buddy Buddy.” Hardly the move of a gratuitous artist-as-curator, this sharing of space is the embodiment of a cooperative community, emboldened by one another. Finally, the larger-than-life Self-Respect fashions bike parts and chiseled wood into simple machine, an oddly elegant kinetic piece that is otherwise self-deprecating in nature:
The worker guy upstairs, that you get to pedal and he punches himself in the face. It’s pretty funny to look at that piece and you got this person in a work outfit, with you know, steel-toe boots on, and that jacket is actually my dad’s from one of his first jobs that he got out of college...at a thermal systems company. So I stole that jacket and put it in the show, I thought that was kind of funny. For me, that piece is. you know...life itself is not as difficult as it seems at some points, and usually when it is you’re doing it to yourself. So the fact that you have to pedal for the punch in the face to happen, I mean, there it is.
—Oliver Hawk Holden