Jim Osman, Screen, 2021, wood, paint, and cast paint, 9 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 8 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art.
On ViewMcKenzie Fine Art
March 2 – April 3, 2022
One encounters Jim Osman’s sculptural assemblages as maquettes of the possible. His work’s potentiality is made manifest via his canny juggling of organic materials, tectonic engineering, and solid color—together with how those disparate materials cohere in highly animated theaters of ensemble character. Classic modernist antecedents for such an approach that come to mind include Alberto Giacometti’s The Palace at 4 a.m. (1932), David Smith’s Voltri VII (1962), and Anthony Caro’s Table Pieces (circa 1966–77), but Osman’s tack also seems tangentially informed by the bricolage formulations of Jessica Stockholder and Sara Sze. The former examples relate to Osman’s work given their ensemble integrity maintained around dramatic centripetal and lateral axes while the latter for their explosive, centrifugal fragmentation of the Cubist grid. What lends Osman’s work its complexity is how he often manages to harness both phenomenal vectors in a single work. The intimate scale of the artist’s sculptures tends to mitigate the cognitive overload such gestalt multitracking might engender on a larger scale, and so his complex scenarios invite scrutiny in a very personable way. In past works, Osman has stuck close to architectonic post and lintel arrays of different types of wood sources hand-cut, machined and polychromed in acrylic and oil paints, whereas in this exhibition, while using these same basic building blocks, he has vastly expanded both his sculptural parameters and material manipulation.
Jim Osman, Vas, 2019, wood, paint, and cast paint, 17 1/2 x 16 x 11 3/4 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art. Photo: Christian Nguyen.
A perfect example of the artist’s widened vocabulary is encountered in Screen (2021) in which razor-thin, almost translucent rhomboids of pine are ring-hinged together and hung on a gray-painted square “doorway” opposite what appears to be a thin strip of oak sprung in an arch approximately proportionate. This corner array is then offset with a “floor” or “patio” of lightly stained red and orange pine slices laid like loose paving slabs. The additional accent of an amorphous blob of cast house-paint sets one’s imagination in the direction of a Pacific Rim-inspired Californian villa—the paint blob a stand-in for a landscape architect’s version of a massive scholar’s stone. Importantly, Osman encapsulates such a cross-cultural genre in such a materially conscious way as to elude the potential for representational cliché. The work’s careful joinery and sensitive material and color juxtapositions productively renew a discussion of a global (world utopian) feng shui. In another tabletop array, Vas (2019), one sees the same materials used in a different way. Balanced, almost wholly, on a matchbox segment of a triangular truss, a platform of beautifully grained wood (both the truss and this being fabricated of walnut) supports various small sculptural assemblies in pine, walnut, and cast paint. The whole presents like a model sculpture garden replete with both minimalist and organic quotation, as if a tiny ensemble of Ellsworth Kelly, Isamu Noguchi, and Jackie Windsor. Such quotation reveals Osman’s assimilation and reformulation of art historical precedents as central to his vision which nevertheless always seems to come out looking like his own. Osman’s free dives into rich art and cultural precedents is akin to the writer Jonathan Lethem’s essay on unabashed incorporation of such into his own work, “The Ecstasy of Influence” (2007). Unlike Lethem, however, rather than directly lifting and redeploying artistic quotation, the artist’s sculptural influences are transformed by an acute awareness of how his specific materials imply their own inherent form. Osman gracefully maintains a balance between allusions to collective cultural memory and the immediacy of materialist transformation.
Jim Osman, Lectern, 2021, wood, paint, and copper, 55 x 13 x 6 inches. Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art. Photo: Christian Nguyen.
At times, the artist expands his sculptures to almost human scale. Works such as Lectern and Marquee (both 2021) stand fifty-five and sixty-two inches respectively, Lectern on thin wood supports, while Marquee is balanced on a combination pine plank and elongated “X” truss form in walnut. Both address the viewer as surrealist personages in their scale and distribution of wood shapes at roughly torso placement. They feel less human than robotic though, despite their wood construction, probably due to their “head” areas being painted in hard-edged and abstract color arrays. It’s fascinating to see how Osman continually combines abstract painting tropes with sculptural ones in his work, as in Pink Fade (2021) where slabs of delicately hued wood panels are interlocked with framing structures to invoke the abstract “super graphics” and room dividers of 1970s decor. Applying such anecdotal reference to the artist’s works isn’t a delimiting practice, though, because the dissembling nature of their promiscuous formal detours tends to ultimately evade reductive readings. There is such a thicket of formal tangents in each of Osman’s works at any given juncture that summary accounts don’t tend to cut it.
The kaleidoscopic evidence of Jim Osman’s capacious formal imagination presented in this show is never overwhelming thanks to his innate ability to know when to make left turns toward contingent resolution of his complex assemblages. This generously discrete, suspended judgment is perhaps the most profound content of these otherwise frank and unassuming works.