Galerie Lilian Rodriguez
February 3 – March 10, 2018
Sarah Osborne is a young artist, who has recently completed her MFA at Concordia University and is now presenting an intimate exhibition of six paintings at Galerie Lilian Rodriguez titled Oeuvres Récentes. The series of figurative works are marked by a bright palette and a focus on the female form. Osborne has been producing paintings of increasing flatness and luminosity which appear to be influenced by Pop Art and “Bad” Painting. This diverges from her recent focus on still lives which call to mind Warhol and various Americana, beer and other beverages, cigarettes and food products presented in a way reminiscent of advertising. Her older work was more painterly in terms of brushwork and texture, with shades of Dana Shutz and Phillip Guston, featuring plates of food which could be splashed on billboards or Instagram feeds, hot dogs, smoked meat sandwiches and so on. However, her recent work also speaks of youth and the joy of being alive, of simple pleasures and shared human indulgences.
The works in Oeuvres Récentes are painted in heightened, saturated colour—summer sky blue, dandelion yellow, lurid salmon pink, stop sign red. When we spoke, Osborne expressed an interest in painting the female figure. It isn’t immediately obvious that they are autoportaits because of her use of composition and cropping. We are reminded of the way women portray themselves in social media, and how that relates to the depiction of women in art history, the muse, the object of desire, the looked upon. The work doesn’t take a direct political stance on this subject, but can be understood as a celebration of the freedom involved in the ability to represent oneself as one wishes to the world, through the internet, through sharing images of oneself, and through painting, a realm of true agency and imagination. Her figures are largely flat, but marked with some personal characteristics, a scattering of moles, the ubiquitous red painted nails. Osborne stated that she typically portrays herself more solidly framed than she is in reality, and her washily-rendered figures often seem robustly present, although cartoonish.
With their sense of joie de vivre, Sarah Osborne creates works which seem influenced by “Bad” Painting, especially the work of Joan Brown with her sense of negative space and even, bright colour, as well as the naïve rendering of her figures and her use of the personal. In terms of “bad” painting, the perspective often isn’t quite right, and sometimes it is far off, the brushwork can be rough and brusque—but other times it is delicate and sensitive, betraying it’s “bad” style—figures seem cut-out and float in space or sink into the tiles. Flesh is rendered one-dimensionally in sunburn pink while other parts of the painting receive more varied treatment. Alex Katz also comes to mind with these recent paintings as a possible influence, with his advertisement-flat figures and arresting spaces of colour.
Pieds croisés dans les Tropiques is the first painting one encounters, just outside the little room in which her work is shown. Small and unassuming, against an orange-pink sky, tropical plant fronds frame feet clad in 80’s style sandals, toes painted red. The style is crude, the mood is irreverent and fun. Another small painting, Journée parfait is a small canvas, a windswept landscape with a flat blue sky and a green field of Queen Anne’s lace. It’s an American dream devoid of irony. Autoportrait avec chemise allemande is thoughtfully cropped, just a view of a neck spotted with a constellation of moles, and a white embroidered shirt, the flowers of which look like delicate stains against the pure white fabric. The blue tie for the shirt is rendered convincingly and tenderly, you can feel the playful weight of it drawn down by gravity.
Staring at the Sea reminded me of Janet Werner’s recent work in some ways, as it is hyper-feminine with a focus on the strands of the blonde hair of the figure seen from behind. The enormous black bow is the most dimensional object by far in this painting, and we are more drawn into its voluptuous curves than the turbulent sea to which the figure’s attention is apparently directed. There is no real mood, just physicality and a sense of tranquil emptiness. It is these compositional aspects which make Osborne’s work is so reminiscent of Pop.
The Yellow Lobby could be a cheeky hotel guest showing up or departing clad in only chunky ankle boots and a long army-style jacket. Even the floor seems offended, the lines of the tiles curving away from her. The yellow of the lobby is indeed charming and it is offset by a green more subdued than most colours in this body of work, the stark black and white of the tiles and the shock of red nails.
Even in the most personal painting of the show, Texting in Bed at Night, remains anonymous. These could be found images off the internet, but they are not, they are self-portraits. We don’t get a sense of loneliness, or salaciousness, despite the view of her buttocks covered in panties boldly framed by a circular mirror, the brushwork around which is quite lovely. The wall is red as fresh blood and the curtains behind the figure are illuminated by prismatic colours, yet the night beyond seems black and lightless. Despite the isolation and fragmentation of these figures, we don’t get a sense of the inherent disconnection of social media culture in these works. As a millennial, Osborne seems completely ensconced in it, for those who grew up with the internet, interacting with it is second nature. It’s Pop culture, unquestioned, enjoyed and not criticized. Yet, this work does not fail to raise questions for the viewer about the influence of social media, the way we share ourselves in fragments, which are distorted views, postcards of the self. We are invited into an intimate world that is somehow also distant and removed. In making herself an odalisque, cutting herself into pieces and flattening and denying her identity, Osborne is claiming the self-image as opposed to being the muse. She has made herself her only muse thus far, but a sort of secret way, not in the show-off sense of Instagram fame. If this work is feminist at all it is understated. These paintings are more gently curious; self-curious, world curious, visually appreciative. Sarah Osborne’s paintings express what it is like for many to be alive and young today, infused with an appreciation for the ordinary things around them in a complicated world.