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Provocation and Decor; Abstracting and Representing

Jan Weiner Gallery features paintings and prints by artist Sabina Ott through February 28. The exhibition is comprised of six paintings and five digital prints. At first, Ott's works seem merely decorative - simple, brightly colored, child like flowers scattered over the picture plane - however, the works are provocative visual statements full of contradiction relationships.

The writing of Gertrude Stein is a major force behind Ott's work. Stein's use of repetition and changes in syntax allow the reader to accept meanings in words in different ways. Ott's repeated forms and their shifting positions across the picture plane achieve the same result. Our expectations are challenged in unexpected ways.

Ott uses encaustic (oil paint added to melted wax) in her paintings - setting up a correlation between sculpture and painting. The paintings have a plasticity similar to that of a three dimensional object. In a 1998 work, "love is a wild animal," Ott covered a flat grid with large areas of wax. She then carved abstract flower forms, letters, and other shapes into the colored wax. Painting is accepted as an additive method in creating art, while sculpture is accepted as a subtractive method. Ott's subtractive method combined with additive painting techniques causes us to rethink accepted definitions.

Ott's paintings raise other issues as well. Placing abstract flowers of different sizes over the stable grid results in flowing movement. We feel as if we are looking down on, or floating over a landscape. But the space is punctuated with the letters R, O, S, and E in varying sizes that deny our perception. Is this a landscape? What spatial markers define landscape? Ott's multi-layered paintings question notions about point of view, relationship of foreground to background, abstraction and representation, and markers we use to define spatial areas.

Throughout the paintings and prints, Ott repeats the letters of the word rose. The letters r, o, s, and e, of different colors, textures and scales, are incorporated in skewed perspective and surprising ways. Ott refers to Gertrude Stein for the symbolism of the word. In a 1999 interview with Marina Pacini, she relates how Stein "revels her optimism" in the story "The World is Round," which "describes the journey into autonomy and self determination of a little girl named Rose." In the story, Rose carves "a rose is a rose is a rose" around a tree. Rose finds herself through Eros," Ott continues. "I use this story loosely as the structure of my work." In Ott's most recent painting, "suddenly green became blue," she uses the anagram Eros. This painting resonates with the cultural, historical and literal symbolism of the rose, eros, and Ott's blue toned palette.

Ott's digital prints are as provocative as her paintings. Ott photographs areas and objects from her paintings and then constructs a related, yet entirely new image in Photoshop. By using the additive technique of digital construction, she questions the same relationships as in her paintings. However, a new spatial form has been engaged - cyberspace. In a conversation with the artist, she raised questions about that space. "It's not flat, yet it is flat. What are our markers for this space? Is it textural or flat? What does it mean to transform digital space into an accepted space? How do we define cyberspace in the absence of a traditional horizon line? Does digital space stand in opposition to painting?" In "best to show sudden spaces," Ott relies on paintings' strong, one point perspective to create spatial depth. Strong ochre, red, green and blue lines rush towards the background and disappear into a point on the "horizon." Yet one errant line crosses over, out of sync with the others, breaking the perception of deep space. Letters form the word rose and punctuates the spatial plane, interrupting the relationship between figure and ground. Ott's prints, like her paintings, don't provide definitive answers to her questions. Rather, they explore possibilities."

Jan March
Review Magazine

Provocation and Decor; Abstracting and Representing by Jan March