Edward Holland: Celestial Sea

March 16 - June 16, 2024 

The contemplation of celestial things will make a man both speak and think more sublimely and magnificently when he descends to human affairs. — Marcus Tullius Cicero 

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.  — Carl Sagan

Stargazing is likely one of humankind’s oldest endeavors. Philosophical, theological, and scientific texts across cultures grapple with both the enormity of a universe with no edges or boundaries and also our place in it. 

Many cultures have a system of astrology that includes a Zodiac. The animating structure underpinning Edward Holland’s Celestial Sea is the Western Zodiac. This Zodiac, as we know it, took shape during the Hellenistic period (332-30 BCE). Holland uses the Zodiac for both its formal properties and its cultural implications and associations.

One of the great joys of viewing a painting is tussling meaning out of an object made by another human being. Central to this effort is the object’s physicality. Holland meticulously builds up layer after layer of surface, encoding each canvas with a host of potential associations, allegories, and meanings for viewers to decipher.

Holland’s base layer is collage. Although these pieces within his paintings are sometimes obscured—or perhaps because they are obscured—the glimpses of material culture are tantalizing. Figures in photographs, news articles, and scientific charts are masked by veils of paint. They are often echoed by calligraphic outlines, squiggles, or slashes, all hinting at narrative potential and dramatic intention. Who are these people? What are these symbols? What is their relationship to this star sign? 

The built-up areas of collage contrast satisfyingly with unarticulated rectangles of flat black as well as colorful brushstrokes that are both fluid and energetic. Floating across and anchoring the composition are the star points of the modern astrological symbol: each point marked by a tiny, gestural X that, by some painterly magic, seems to twinkle.

— Mara Williams, curator

Celestial Sea consists of 12 canvases and 36 smaller works on paper that represent my earliest and latest explorations of Vigils of the Dead, a body of work that I began in 2014. The work is built around mythology and myth-making in ways that are open to interpretation—abstract rather than illustrative. Zodiac signs, which are the focus of Celestial Sea, are exactly that: abstract shapes signifying a narrative. They are both form and content, much like the practice of painting itself. 

The overlap of Zodiac signs and painting can be pushed even further, since both are systems for delivering information that could be considered obsolete. The Zodiac is often relegated to describing what will happen during a particular day. Painting was once the primary way for people to understand stories of the Bible.

Embedded within each piece in Celestial Sea is one sign from the modern Sun Zodiac, or the Western Zodiac—not a bull or a fish or another similar image, but the actual stars that make up those constellations. The stars themselves are almost always represented by small Xs placed across the work. Sometimes the Zodiac sign is obvious. Other times it is deeply obscured by paint and collage. 

I allow the Zodiac sign to govern aspects of my process as well, such as choices of collage elements and colors. Aries, the ram, is represented by red, for example. Rather than feeling restricted by these rules, I consider each painting to be full of possibility and challenge. How do I make a compelling and unique work of art within a similar set of creative circumstances? 

I am not interested in astrology. I am, however, interested in how individuals interpret my work. Every person has a unique set of ideas, memories, and feelings that influence their reading of an artwork. Abstraction and collage feed into that complexity. The viewer reconciles the gestures, colors, and scraps of collage paper into their own understanding of a painting. Each time they look at the painting, it can be different. That openness of interpretation is what drives my work.

— Edward Holland


March 16, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Opening of New Exhibits
May 11, Saturday, 7 p.m. — Art Talk: Edward Holland and Mara Williams


Installation views
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