Overduin and Kite | Los Angeles
May 27 – August 4, 2012
THE 10 MODESTLY SIZED PAINTINGS IN SCOTT OLSON’S SECOND solo exhibition in Los Angeles are widely spaced on the gallery walls—expansive white space pooling around works that are meditations on attention, balance, surface and framing. Each is further enclosed by borders left blank and/or by a tidy handmade frame of poplar, maple, or onyx- or mahogany-stained cherry, as if Olson means to center and carefully set his paintings (all untitled, 2012) in our field of vision.
A basic aim of almost all painting is to gather shapes and colors into a bounded physical space as a means to collect, focus and manipulate attention. Olson’s paintings do this pointedly, while also acting as open records of the attention that goes into their creation—the interplay on the artist’s end between activity and passivity, improvisation and deliberation. Irregular shapes in a broad, even random palette of colors ranging from muted browns to aqueous blues to bright yellows and oranges sift across the paintings’ surfaces in overlapping planes, creating an illusion of depth. There’s an ephemeral character to the arrangement of Olson’s forms, like leaves organized into patterns on a lake’s surface, as if each painting is a snapshot of a composition on the verge of dissipating. It’s a mesmerizing effect that seems to come from calibrating conscious and unconscious input, with an equal give-and-take between what nature allows to arise and what the educated, purposeful artist places.
Olson’s process pulls in elements from the natural world as well as from painting’s history. His magenta derives from ground beetle extract, his orange from cosmos flowers’ pollen. Various works incorporate wax, oil, egg tempera, and silverpoint, on supports that include linen and panels coated with ground marble dust—a suede-like, luxurious surface for a painting. Experimental homemade tools help create marks, further balancing intention and accident. Shapes may appear stenciled or printed; scraped lines reveal sub-layers. A kind of game ensues as we reverse-engineer the mechanisms that created the painting, our imagined versions of the artist’s tools inevitably failing to align with reality.
The paintings sit poised between an experience of process: painting as verb, and of product: painting as noun, and of painting as image and physical object. There may be something of a trend toward diffusion in current art, a reluctance to clearly define a plane or to direct experience, as if to give the impression that the art has wandered into frame, or that a frame has haphazardly sketched itself around the art; one finds evidence of this quality, for instance, in the Hammer Museum’s present LA biennial exhibition. Though this can be an interesting concept, it’s frustrating when taken too far, when the viewer feels charged with the bulk of the responsibility of organizing an artwork. Olson, showing intense interest for what finally emerges on the surface of an artwork’s plane, with what ends up in its bounds, has made paintings that exemplify how deliberate, definite artworks can preserve a sense of possibility and openness.