Like a Golden Allegory: Holly Lane’s Bright Monuments to Epiphany and Eureka


Holly Lane. "The Root Seeker", 2005. Acrylic on wood. 28 3/4" x 24" x 7 1/8". Private collection.

“Its soul its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance. The soul of the commonest object, the structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.”      ~ James Joyce

“… Like tales that were told the day before yesterday-/ Sleek in a natural nakedess,/ She attends the tintinnabula-…”     ~Wallace Stevens, “The Hermitage at the Center”

Over the past twenty years Northern California artist Holly Lane has created an impressive body of work that bears witness to her twin talents as painter and woodworker.  Known for her intricately carved frames which are the settings for her exquisitely rendered paintings, Lane’s pieces share in the art historical traditions of Gothic architecture, the Flemish Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and various modernist schools of landscape and figure. On viewing Lane’s oeuvre masters as far apart in time as Jan Van Eyck and George Tooker may come to mind. In these environments flora, fauna, weather and geography become conscious agents eager to communicate with and to play on the metaphorical capabilities of the viewer’s imagination. Imagery that one might classify as feminist or ecological is most certainly a persistent thread in Lane’s output. But if these works are didactic then it is in the sense of fables, those symbolically condensed vignettes in which talking animals or sudden reversals of plot manifest an important moral or truth about the human condition.

Holly Lane. "The Well-Traveled Mind," 2006. Gilded carved wood. 21 3/4" x 10 5/8" x 8 3/4". Courtesy the artist and Forum Gallery, NYC.

In recent years the richly layered architectural elements of Lane’s wooden frames have been set free to play a more prominent role. Those meticulously realized, almost animated foliages and decorous accretions drawn from the temples and palaces of history have embarked from their former roles as buttress and commentary. Liberated from their older alliance with the paintings, these elements have taken on a new weight- both literally and figuratively.  Lane’s forms are no less ornate than before, but by allowing them to exist on their own a different level of significance emanates from them. They do not so much function as stories as the solidification of powerful experiences or ideas gathered up and exquisitely presented in a single moment: the epiphany ( a manifestation of a powerful, singular presence) or the eureka (a flash of insight into the heart of the matter). In this sense Lane’s golden sculptures are monuments to the very experience of fulfillment.

Holly Lane. "A Day on Mt. Parnassus," 2006. Gilded carved wood. 46" x 8" x 10 1/8". Courtesy of the artist and Forum Gallery, NYC.

In The Well Traveled Mind and A Day on Mt. Parnassus structures stand in for impressions, crystalizations of what the senses and understanding have gleaned about the external world. We are reminded that the erection of our belief systems comes out of the raw materials of our perceptions though it may be cut, shaped and combined in modes that are cultural. In the first what appears to be a miniature El Dorado or New Jerusalem, sits perched on a golden shelf. Lane imagines the internal life of the sage likening it to a gleaming capital, full of exquisite mental palaces. In the second work elements culled from an archeological treasure trove appear to hover one above the other. The levitating components of this strange almost spine-like column can also be read as the appurtenances of some religious ritual: footstools, curtained cubicles, a covered chalice. In Greek Myth Mt. Parnassus was the home of Apollo, the god of light, reason and music. It was  here that he was attended by the nine Muses, the goddesses of the performing and the plastic arts.

Holly Lane, "Love Song for Her Last Hour", 2006. 17 1/2" x 7" x 4". Gilded carved wood. Courtesy the artist and Forum Gallery, NYC.

“Architecture is frozen music,” said the poet Goethe, and in Love Song For Her Last Hour the connection between the two formal ways of organizing phenomena is abundantly clear. Lane’s crenulated and blooming turrets stand together creating a harmonic whole, like a bouquet of cathedral spires or the shining pipes of an archaic church organ. The title directs our imaginations to consider musical allusions to love and death: “the swan song” or the Liebestod. This conceptual mingling of ecstasy and expiration was also theorized by Freud as the twin drives of Eros and Thanatos. Here again Lane’s masterful forms create a kind of surge, their diversity of detail acting in one accord to monumentalize a singular effect: this object is the optical equivalent of the  crescendo that washes over us in a glorious moment of finality.

Holly Lane. "The Poet's Lecturn", 2009. 22 3/4" x 9" x 9". Courtesy the artist and Forum Gallery, NYC.

The Poet’s Lecturn hints at the grandeur of places like medieval universities where great works were read aloud. The lectern is covered with natural forms: flower petals, the leaves of succulents–or are they tongues–the proverbial silver tongues of those gifted with the ensorcelling powers of speech? Perhaps we would do well to heed the words of Archibald MacLeish “a poem should not mean but be.” The title object is perhaps a representation of that glorious moment when a poem MEANS! These object-allusions to the physical apparati of utterance (lectern, tongues, blooming) are gathered into a shimmering tribute to the force of poetry–the moment the poet dreams of: the epiphany of the poem, the eureka of the listener.

"The Poet's Lecturn" (detail).

The most spectacular and the largest of Lane’s pieces to date is Eudaimonia and the Four Pillars of the Sky which partakes in the nature of the monument more completely than anything that has come before it in Lane’s output. Eudaimonia is a term from Aristotle’s philosophy that has been variously translated as “happiness” or “welfare” but is more accurately rendered as “human flourishing.” In considering Goethe’s statement once again about architecture as music again we may view this colossal object in terms of a baroque canon, as level after level of gilded architecture reaches its apex in a domed roof above which a flock of golden birds seem to act as heavenly chorus. One perfectly rendered golden star is fixed to the interior of the ceiling of the dome, acting perhaps as the transcendent endpoint of all this flourishing or else the divine magnet whose force is the author of the growth itself.

Holly Lane. "Eudaimonia and the Four Pillars of the Sky" (detail).


Holly Lane. "Eudaimonia and the Four Pillars of the Sky," 2010. Gilded carved wood. 90 3/8" x 12" x 12." Courtesy the artist and Forum Gallery, NYC.

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