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A new exhibit at Astra Design uses organic life to represent abstract ideas.

Organic Expression

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Is it possible to capture the fleeting effects of shadows and clouds? Can the feelings and observations one experiences walking in a meadow or staring up into a night sky be recreated? Can deterioration be conveyed simultaneous to growth and buildup? Pollution and decay with purity and new life? Of the many challenges a visual artist faces when creating a work, one of the most intense can be that of putting intangible emotions, concepts and experiences into palpable, solid form.

Cheryl Holz has mastered such a conundrum by poignantly nurturing the delicate balance between the material world of organic life and the ethereal realm of thought and idea. Employing wood panels that protrude about 3 inches from the wall, Holz layers a cornucopia of materials: acrylic and oil paints, encaustic, plaster, copper and various found organic objects such as egg shells, stones, sticks, leaves, pine needles and bugs. Her rich hues of ochre, brown, teal, cream and red meld seamlessly into the mustard wall at Astra Design where 13 large paintings and four smaller ones are currently on display.

Hailing from a suburb of Chicago, Holz is a keen observer of the world around her: "My early fascination with nature has led me to investigate natural forms as well as human designs and marks; the connections between nature's patterns and those in our own lives continue to fascinate me and invigorate my art."

To that end, the artist builds thick layers and then carves away at them, scratching out words or burying tiny bits of nature into squared-off niches. Through strata of color, thickness and texture, each painting takes on a life force all its own, half alive and half decayed.

"Vanishing Frogs" is a 24-by-28-inch panel covered with plaster, leaves, ink, wax and butterfly wings. It tells the story of Holz's theory that frogs, so low on the ecological ladder, may be the first to disappear due to the overwhelming presence of pollution and filth these tiny beings mire in below the water's surface. Another work, "Listen," visually voices the quiet reverence she holds for the natural world. In this piece — layered with plaster, copper and pages from the Bible — the artist attempts to subtly instill the sheer spirituality of the organic wonders around us.

While socio-environmental messages inspire these works, the utter beauty of Holz's lush colors, tactile layers and harmonious materials seem to eclipse any type of didacticism or strident call to action.

The paintings, like nature itself, evolve throughout the day as the light changes, deepening colors on one panel and highlighting surfaces on others.

Holz's paintings are a microcosm of a world teeming with organic forms and a macrocosm of the cosmos, awesome and ageless. With these palimpsests of life observed, the artist has achieved that ineffable balance between that which we see and that which we feel and know to be true.



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