Warren Holt: Playascope

At Gallery Ocho. Shows through July 10.

Warren Holt's "Wading in the Tide."

Not all daydreamers are just wishful thinkers. For painter Warren Holt, daydreaming is the source of creative inspiration, the moment where the subconscious realizes its longings, aspirations, and fantasies through visual imaginings. As his show Playascope reveals, the beachscape is the subject of Holt’s most recent daydreams-its bright sun, salty breeze, and idle beauty providing a welcoming backdrop to the gray, cold winters of New York City, Holt’s adopted home. For the artist, these paintings not only trigger memories of unhurried childhood summers, but also act as an investigation into the cultural phenomenon of spending a day at the beach.

Of course, paintings of people taking part in leisurely activities have long been popular, especially in the 19th century, when images of boat parties and picnics in the park marked the emergence of the bourgeoisie as the ruling class. For Playascope, Holt takes a cue from the great painters of that period to create a collection of paintings that evoke the era of leisure, both in subject matter and style. Many of the paintings in this show are a play on the 19th-century Impressionist masters who first captured the daydream of an upper-class existence with loose, expressive paint strokes and a soft, pastel-colored palette.

In “Wading in Water” and “Sifting Through Sand,” Holt has miniaturized the beach experience, portraying tiny figures in an expanse of ocean that spreads across the canvas. By omitting the horizon line, Holt heightens the viewer’s sensory experience, disorienting us so that the rise and fall of the ocean become palpable and immediate.

The gallery has arranged Holt’s works into a loose chronology that follows his movement across locations, perspectives, and painterly styles. While some of Holt’s paintings are more literal in their rendering-the artist works from a selection of cinematic stills, vacation photos, and telescopic photography from locations across the globe-others are abstracted to the point where the subject is unrecognizable.

The exhibition oscillates between the two stylistic extremes, but the subject matter remains consistent to the point where location becomes irrelevant and cultural differences are erased. Whether the beachgoers are frolicking in the hot sun of China (“Under the Umbrella”), on the white sands of Greece (“Mountains and Sea”), or in front of an urban skyline (“City and Sand”), Holt has reduced their characteristics to a common denominator of blinding sun, bright, shadowless colors, and flat, expansive space.


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