Robert Olsen Review

Any gallery that hangs work even remotely hinting at Edward Hopper gets me itching to place a rewarding sticker on its front door, and so it was when I entered Susanne Vielmetter LA Project recently. Now you have to understand that it was raining pretty bad at the time, my shoes and socks were totally drenched, my two artist companions, Cindy Suriyani and Paul Torres were also in wetland misery and if that wasn’t enough, the memories of my last trip to this Gallery, where I almost tripped and fell into one of the life size cardboard coffins scattered all over the main exhibit floor, was making me wary of what Susanne had planned for me this time. Ah but the Gods often show mercy at the last moment, nothing remotely resembling coffins came to sight, only images hinting at Hopper, eureka. Before me were the paintings of Robert Olsen, an artist preoccupied with how artificial nightlight plays on a single object either by shinning on it or emanating from it. Not one of his paintings deviates from this singular objective. You see his fascination of night/object lighting in a series of paintings, many quite small, of the famous red-orange 76 ball. Here he constantly switches the position of the “76” in each piece as well as changing the lighting of the ball to the point where it starts to resemble a Chinese lantern. There’s never more than a single object in each painting, gas pump, bus stop, lighted sign, etc. which is more often than not centrally located and fills up most of the canvas. Yet, his objects of our industrial world are not ponderous. Why is that? Because he surrounds each with a pitch-black nighttime ocean which softens them and makes them appear suspended and floating. Some parts of the object transition to the black void as a hard abrupt edge while other parts fade out gradually. The light never illuminates the entire object, only various portions of it, and the intensity of the color changes as well from section to section.  Olson is very sparing with the amount of colors that he uses so that things end up looking close to monochrome. To make sure it’s not a single color painting, he places a very bright color; say a red or a yellow in one or more small areas that act like the catch-light one would put in the pupil of a portrait. But in spite of all these hints at luminosity, the overall palette remains rather cool and hard; after all, he’s representing metal and glass objects. Ultimately the shapes of the objects have a significant architecturally reductionistic feel to them.

Olson gets his images from the photographs that he takes on periodic nocturnal sorties; I assume with or without displaying vampire teeth. I can understand Olson’s fascination for the night, where all is defined and the imagination is forced to fill in the blanks, in this case, the dark voids surrounding the central object and space. Many would sense isolation, loneliness, abandonment of a world devoid of multiple definitions and any subjects akin I imagine to when Mommy left a light on in our bedrooms at night because things lurked in the dark. To others like me, his images portray intimate moments of quiet contemplation and reflection anchored to a small nightlight like object beacon. One expects no intrusions; the city has shut up and shut down for a little while. It’s a comforting place to recuperate, regenerate and prepare for the contrast of urban daylight. In addition, I can’t help but admire any artist that takes the detritus of civilizations visual world and turns it into the monumental. Who says that an industrial smokestack can’t be as enchanting and engaging as say, the Eiffel Tower, let alone a bus stop.

Cindy Suriyani, my guest critic and brilliant writer, was captivated by the work of Victor Man, now showing at Blum and Poe, a gallery that has always struck me as having more space than it can handle (5,000 sq. ft.),

Man’s installations are very male, minimalistic, dark, drawing the eye to rather enigmatic oddly intimate and almost voyeuristic little paintings.  The paintings themselves seem a product of mass-produced images, circa National Geographic and Reuters combined with that odd romantic energy, as if I was watching a scene from Anna Karenina as a fact and not a fiction.  There is also a latent violence in the work that seems to work outside the confines of the pieces themselves, which along with the fact that he is a Romanian artist, stirs the imagination.

Comments are closed.