Scott Ol­son Har­mo­nia Mun­di

Art Press - - AHISTORIC - Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den

Contem­po­ra­ry art fairs do not real­ly en­cou­rage de­lec­ta­tion, but they do of­fer the oc­ca­sio­nal ex­ci­ting dis­co­ve­ry, of the kind made by Ri­chard Ley­dier, when he chan­ced upon Scott Ol­son. Here he des­cribes how it hap­pe­ned, and how the pain­ter’s work has evol­ved.

A few years ago I was wal­king around the al­leys of the Grand Pa­lais. It was the Fiac— the 2013 edi­tion in fact. Well, ra­ther, I was shuf­fling. Be­cause, as we all know, vi­si­ting a contem­po­ra­ry art fair can be quite an or­deal. Fa­tigue and bo­re­dom can qui­ck­ly stifle even the most ar­dent­ly kind­led flame of hope, the ob­du­rate be­lief that so­mew­here lies an epi­pha­nic en­coun­ter with an ar­tist you’ve ne­ver seen be­fore. By now, though, I was on au­to­pi­lot and had rea­ched the Sa­lon d’Hon­neur on the up­per floor, when so­me­thing on my left caught my eye. There see­med no­thing unu­sual about the booth in ques­tion. On the three walls de­li­mi­ting its ter­ri­to­ry a do­zen small pic­tures hung, none big­ger than 40 x 60 cm. And yet, even from the cen­tral aisle where I had glimp­sed them out of the cor­ner of my eye, they must have exu­ded so­me­thing po­wer­ful and ir­re­sis­ti­bly at­trac­tive. So I went clo­ser. The booth was that of the An­ge­le­no gal­le­ry Over­duin & Kite, and the ar­tist whose so­lo show they were pre­sen­ting was cal­led Scott Ol­son. His pain­tings were abs­tract in ap­pea­rance, pain­ted in a vein both geo­me­tric and or­ga­nic. Each one in­va­ria­bly pre­ser­ved a per­ime­ter of un­pain­ted can­vas. At the cen­ter were dense com­po­si­tions tight with ma­ni­fold co­lors or­ga­ni­zed in what one might call a geo­lo­gi­cal way, in schist-like stra­ta in­ter­wea­ving in va­rious fa­shions. All ex­tre­me­ly dense. At the same time there was so­me­thing ve­ry mu­si­cal about these pain­tings in which the ve­ry deft chro­ma­tic har­mo­nies brought to mind the lu­mi­no­si­ty of stai­ned glass, but al­so the pre­ci­sion and conci­sion of illu­mi­na­ted ma­nus­cripts. Of course, I was al­so re­min­ded of a whole mo­der­nist tra­di­tion in ear­ly twen­tieth cen­tu­ry Eu­rope em­bo­died by the likes of

Fran­ti­sek Kup­ka and Ro­bert De­lau­nay. I thought, too, al­beit more dis­tant­ly, of Ame­ri­can examples, of cer­tain pain­tings by Mars­den Hart­ley and, even more, of the mu­si­ca­li­ty, of the post-war Ca­li­for­nian mo­ve­ment Dy­na­ton in which Lee Mul­li­can was one of the lea­ding fi­gures. It see­med clear that the ar­tist was re­fer­ring to a known he­ri­tage, yet shif­ting it to­wards unex­plo­red, ut­ter­ly per­so­nal do­mains. This pain­ting was fa­mi­liar and at the same time new.

A SCULP­TU­RAL TURN We don't al­ways know what it is that makes us “fall in love” with a gi­ven ar­tist’s work, and the whole point, in­deed, is to try to iso­late the rea­sons for this at­trac­tion af­ter the event. In fact, as I get ol­der, I don’t real­ly see any ba­sic rea­son to write about art un­less it is to learn a bit more about one’s own tastes, and the­re­fore about one­self. Over the last few years I have kept more or less dis­tant tabs on Ol­son’s work. Last win­ter his New York gal­le­rist, James Co­han, gave him a so­lo show at the re­mar­kable ADAA (Art Dea­lers As­so­cia­tion of Ame­ri­ca) fair on Ar­mo­ry Park Ave­nue) and, conco­mi­tant­ly, in his gal­le­ry on the Lo­wer East Side. Ol­son was still ma­king those small pic­tures (on li­nen, and so­me­times on woo­den pa­nels), but his pain­ting had chan­ged. The com­po­si­tions were no lon­ger ne­ces­sa­ri­ly li­mi­ted to a qua­dran­gu­lar for­mat fra­med by un­pain­ted can­vas, but so­me­times sho­wed more bio­mor­phic de­ve­lop­ments. The forms that peo­pled them, too, see­med less hem­med in and spread more free­ly in curves and scrolls that were not wi­thout echoes of Arab cal­li­gra­phy and its li­ve­ly, sharp forms. The pain­tings ap­pea­red to have lost some of their ear­lier den­si­ty in fa­vor of ai­ry mo­ve­ments, but fair­ly soon I rea­li­zed that, thanks to the play of trans­pa­ren­cy and the oc­ca­sio­nal use of subtle gra­da­tions, the su­per­po­si­tion of co­lors ge­ne­ra­ted vo­lume and a sense of depth, with ef­fects that in some res­pects re­min­ded me of Lyo­nel Fei­nin­ger. Ol­son’s pain­ting was ta­king a more sculp­tu­ral turn and its den­si­ty was ex­pres­sed less in the two-di­men­sio­nal plane than in an al­most illu­sio­nist space. I as­ked my­self if there was not, in these pain­tings, so­me­thing of a dis­junct bet­ween abs­trac­tion and fi­gu­ra­tion— even though the image re­sis­ted pro­jec­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions—in which form might play the role of fuse. I know ve­ry well that one of the rea­sons why I lo­ved Ol­son’s pain­tings in 2013 is that they re­min­ded of some of the works pain­ted by Phi­lip Gus­ton at the end of the 1940s, du­ring a fi­gu­ra­tive per­iod that came just be­fore he swit­ched to abs­tract ex­pres­sio­nism, which I par­ti­cu­lar­ly ad­mire. I am thin­king in par­ti­cu­lar of his Per­for­mers (1947), at the Me­tro­po­li­tan Mu­seum. It shows mu­si- cians with wire-thin bo­dies in a dense com­po­si­tion in which ho­ri­zon­tal, ver­ti­cal and oblique frag­ments of wood in­ter­weave bet­ween the fi­gures. Ve­ry si­mi­lar types of struc­ture can be seen in Ol­son’s ear­lier pain­tings. I am not saying that the ar­tist conscious­ly drew from the ol­der ar­tist’s work—jud­ging by what was said in our ex­changes, Gus­ton was im­por­tant in his for­ma­tive years—but it does neat­ly illus­trate the way ar­tists de­cades apart can take pa­ral­lel paths be­cause they are trying to achieve re­sults that are ve­ry si­mi­lar on a phi­lo­so­phi­cal le­vel. Whe­ther they aim for it in an abs­tract or fi­gu­ra­tive vein is ul­ti­ma­te­ly not ve­ry im­por­tant be­cause the pri­ma­ry concern is for­mal ef­fec­ti­ve­ness. Form (and the un­ders­tan­ding of com­plex ope­ra­tions from which it arises) conta­mi­nates the gaze to be­gin with in terms of emo­tions. The sub­ject comes just af­ter­wards. The wor­king pro­cesses de­ve­lo­ped by Ol­son are ar­ti­sa­nal. The frames of his pain­tings are made from maple or cher­ry wood. The sup­port it­self is si­zed with a ges­so made of marble pow­der and skin-ba­sed glue, a tech­nique that comes straight from the Ita­lian Re­nais­sance. The ca­re­ful­ly cho­sen pig­ments are ap­plied with great eco­no­my then abra­ded to re­veal the ar­cheo­lo­gy of the pain­ting. The ar­tist so­me­times in­cludes cop­per or gold in his com­po­si­tions, which brings a touch of the By­zan­tine icon and, even more, Flo­ren­tine mar­que­try. In any case, the shine of the me­tal heigh­tens the sen­sa­tion of loo­king at a pre­cious ob­ject, a sen­sa­tion that

the small for­mat of the pain­tings in fact pro­duces when you first see them.

DRA­WING IN THE GAZE The wor­king tech­nique stems from the small for­mats: the pain­tings are laid flat on a pi­vo­ting pla­teau which fa­ci­li­tates fast hand­ling and in­ter­ven­tion, and means that the di­rec­tion in which we read the work is on­ly de­ter­mi­ned right at the end. Pain­ting small is pri­ma­ri­ly a phi­lo­so­phi­cal choice. The ar­tist be­lieves that he would lose den­si­ty and, above all, in­ten­si­ty, if he took to big­ger for­mats. He would run the risk of dis­per­sing the gaze. Be­cause Ol­son’s pain­tings do draw in the gaze. Con­tem­pla­ting them is al­most like sti­cking one’s eye to the lens of a mi­cro­scope to ob­serve ti­ny, subtle phe­no­me­na: how co­lors and forms come to­ge­ther or push apart, and how light illu­mi­nates these in­ter­ac­tions. That leaves the ques­tion of what this life of forms does to us. I may just be ima­gi­ning this, but the fee­lings I have in front of these pain­tings are contra­dic­to­ry. First, there is so­me­thing joyous and so­lar, the vi­sion of a mi­nia­ture uni­verse, the fee­ling that mea­su­re­less forces, at once chtho­nic and cos­mic, are wor­king to­ge­ther to set up a las­ting har­mo­ny and peace in that ve­ry small space of the pain­ting. But, at the same time, I can­not get out of my mind the me­lan­cho­ly idea that beau­ty (for that is the word we have to use for what goes on in Ol­son’s pain­tings) has be­come so rare, in a time when art has be­come a spec­tacle, that its exis­tence is inexo­ra­bly threa­te­ned, re­le­ga­ted and im­pri­so­ned in mo­dest areas, which are the on­ly ones ca­pable of concen­tra­ting and re­vea­ling—to those who still wish to contem­plate it—its im­mo­ral au­ra.

Cri­tic and cu­ra­tor Ri­chard Ley­dier is ba­sed in Pa­ris.

Scott Ol­son Né en/ born 1976 à / in New York Vit à / lives in Kent, Ohio Ex­po­si­tions ré­centes / Recent so­lo shows: 2009 Mi­sa­ko & Ro­sen, To­kyo, Ja­pan 2010 Tax­ter and Spen­ge­mann, New York 2012 Over­duin and Kite, Los An­geles 2013 Walls­pace Gal­le­ry, New York 2014 Ga­le­rie Mi­cky Schu­bert, Ber­lin 2015 Ga­le­rie Nor­den­hake, Stock­holm 2017 James Co­han Gal­le­ry, New York Trans­for­mer Sta­tion, Cle­ve­land (au­tomne)

Cette page, de haut en bas/ this page, from top: « Un­tit­led ». 2017. Huile sur pan­neau de bois. 57,1 x 71,1 cm. Oil on pa­nel « Un­tit­led ». 2017. Huile sur pan­neau de bois. 57,1 x 71,1 cm. Oil on pa­nel Page de gauche / page left: « Un­tit­led ». 2017....

Page de gauche / page left: « Un­tit­led ». 2012. Huile, tem­pé­ra à l’oeuf, cire, poudre de marbre sur pan­neau de bois, cadre en bois de ce­ri­sier. 62,5 x 45,5 cm. Oil, egg tem­pe­ra, wax, marble dust ground on pa­nel, ma­ho­ga­ny cher­ry frame Ci-des­sous /...

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