Soon after American artist Loie Hollowell landed in Hong Kong in March 2018, she started feeling ill. “I was nauseous and really, really hungry,” Hollowell recalls during a video interview from her studio in New York City. It was her first trip to Asia, and she was here for an exhibition of her paintings at Pace, the global mega-gallery that has represented her since 2017, so she brushed her queasiness aside and threw herself into her week in the city.
On the Monday of that week, Hollowell opened her exhibition of 18 paintings, all of which sold, most to collectors from mainland China, but some to fans in Singapore and South Korea. On Tuesday, she attended the opening of the Art Basel fair, where Pace was showing more of her work. On Wednesday night, she attended a Tatler party at Popinjays, the rooftop bar at The Murray hotel. The next morning, when Hollowell finally had a break, and still did not feel entirely right, something clicked.
“I took a pregnancy test,” says Hollowell, with one of the bursts of laughter that pepper her conversation. “I found out in Hong Kong that I was pregnant with my first child.”
Thrilled, Hollowell returned to the US and embarked on a new series inspired by her pregnancy. These works combined the luminous, pulsating colours for which Hollowell, then 34, was already famous, with drawings of orbs, ovals and half-moons. She introduced these swollen shapes as representations of all the ways her body was changing.
Hollowell painted these abstract self-portraits until the birth of her son, Linden, that December, and she continued making them when she returned to her studio, expanding the series to explore the physical sensation of giving birth. She unveiled these paintings in her most celebrated exhibition, Plumb Line, at Pace in New York in September 2019, when Linden was nine months old. Hollowell didn’t tell anyone then, but she was already pregnant with her second child, a daughter, Juniper, who was born in April 2020.
Now, almost three years to the day since Hollowell discovered she was pregnant in Hong Kong, the art sparked by that moment and her subsequent journey into motherhood is returning to Asia. This month, the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai is opening an exhibition of 15 paintings that Hollowell made during that time, many of which have not been exhibited before. “Hong Kong was the beginning of these works, and now they’re in Shanghai, which is the ending,” says Hollowell, who is using the pandemic-enforced downtime to experiment with new ideas.