Essay by Merrick Fry 2020
You see the figures in the street. These are real people engaging with each other
In Newtown. There is a fusion of social groups with complex styles. I can almost see the brand of sneaker that man has on his feet. That young woman is pretending she has not noticed the guy having a quick look at her bare legs.
The artist also enjoys the urban spatial complexities. The tension of pedestrians jostling on street corners and cars waiting for the lights to change. The cars have a life of their own, like animals ready to jump. Holdaway gathers information at every chance, while walking his dog ‘Boyd’ in the park and at the intersections of streets in his car. He is interested in the change of space in these parks with the cyclists and joggers interacting.
Figures in Sydney Park 2019
It is rare to see figurative work with such engagement in the everyday. It is much easier to semi abstract the figures and places in a mannerist style and repeat it… get a quantity of work into the marketplace quickly for sale.
Rod Holdaway is a unique artist creating his vision of the world. You have to be prepared to study the work for more than a few seconds to get to the bottom of it. If you do you will find a rich visual experience.
How does he achieve these qualities in the work?
Over the twenty years I have known the artist I have watched him evaluate the history of the visual image. As a young man he was an intense expressionist. He had a difficult family life. Some of those images I still can bring into my memory because they are edgy but many don’t have sustained power. This is natural for young painters because you need time to gain more skills in techniques and more wisdom in life.
Clan Wars 2006
By looking back to the composition and palettes of the Italian Renaissance then combining this with the way the Chinese arranged their space in the calligraphic ink works he has broadened his knowledge, balancing the emotional power of his early works with interesting new-found formal structures. He also naturally from his generation understands the New York School approaches (what Hoffman calls ‘the integrity of the picture plain’).
Now I come to the final influence.
It always seemed to me a puzzle that the complex vision of Cezanne could not have opened up many possibilities of investigation. The Cubist works of Braque and Picasso are magical and radical but because of the upheavals at the time were left historically suspended. Later it looked like formal abstraction was the logical direction to take. Most painting then became a formalist playground where the work would refer to itself only and leave the wonderment of objects behind.
Holdaway takes the early cubists works adding like a bowerbird influences from his love of the past and comes up with a new reality. It’s not a realism from photography which kills many painters. It’s a refreshing vision which can startle the viewer.
The technique is multi layered. By using torn pieces of discarded prints from his iPad with painted areas on the canvas and by coming and going with paint and paper, he makes a composition. As he pinned these into positions before gluing them down he realised that the shadows were producing another dimension in space. He thought he could use some of these shadows but the only way to keep them was to paint an imitation shadow on the edge of the paper. One of his painter friends thought this was really cheating but there is no such thing in a work of art. The result is a world of its own. It’s exciting and you will realise it’s the world you live in.