Words > Selected Catalog Essays and Press

New Art Examiner
February, 2000

Sabina Ott

"If ever there were an impossible project, it would be to build a love machine. Mechanized precision cannot approach the messiest and most ineffable of human experiences. Still, we find ways to analyze such complexity. Sabina Ott's method, evolved from a variety of sources and cultures and, combined with signs of personal importance, is on display in "Love Machines: A Survey of Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1991-1999." Her visual language shouts and babbles, perplexing and challenging the viewer.

Ott works primarily in encaustic, in her hands a surprisingly versatile medium. She pours wax in pools or long dribbles, cuts up sections and rearranges them like a mosaic, crumples scraps into balls that pop from the canvas, and builds up smooth planes, sometimes scribbling and gouging into them. The surfaces range in consistency and color from mud to translucent alabaster, with the full spectrum in between.

Ott draws her imagery from diverse influences: Abstract Expressionism, Eastern art, Modernist writing (particularly Gertrude Stein's), and popular culture. She also holds a fascination with cartography. Subrosa #21 looks like a puzzle of map fragments fitted together neatly, if haphazardly. The wall-sized panel is dominated by white continents poured directly on the wood surface, then etched with thin oblique lines, like latitudes and longitudes gone awry. These alternate with blocks of similar forms in green, which add visual energy. In contrast to the white shapes on wood, the green land masses float on a busy sea of pink squares and squiggles embedded in amber wax. They too are marked with a skewed grid of thick lines that extend from the continents into a web that hiccups across the entire canvas, jumping from one multicolored block to the next.

It's no surprise Ott favors maps: the products of detailed study, they never lead to absolute conclusions (new streets are built, nations shift borders, and names change). The same can be said about Ott's amorphous layered canvases. Mapping also implies exploration of, and familiarity with, the contours of a body, whether island or human. Desire is present throughout Ott's work, but it becomes most apparent in panels marked with the word "rose" and it's anagram "eros."

The most recent works such as pleasure where there is a passage ooze roses in word and image. After all, what is love without flowers? The artist cultivates two varieties: the quick scribble of a full-blown, crinkled rose, and the kitschy four-petaled, circle-in-the-center flower drawn by children everywhere. More chaotic than the smooth and closely gridded "subrosa" series, pleasure explodes with color: blues, green, pinks, and reds that blend and clash. The surface also grows more variable, as Ott layers rough over smooth, "I" strips and shapes that overlap or fit together. The canvas is littered with tiny diagrams and giant, menacing flowers. Among these hover the letters of "love" and "eros," almost lost in the underbrush. Within the fluctuation of space, pattern, and texture, the viewer also feels a little lost.

In the end, one returns to the surface. Encaustic produces a visceral reaction, whether of desire or repulsion. And here's where the love machine comes in, bundling together all our contradictions. The machine works."

Christina Huntington
New Art Examiner
February, 2000

Sabina Ott by Christina Huntington