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Bohdan Osyczka at Sixth & Sixth Gallery Posted on March 6th

02 WN/15 Watercolor on Paper 44 x 45 inches

I’m visiting Tucson this week, and one of my stops was the fairly new Sixth & Sixth Gallery in downtown Tucson. Sixth & Sixth opened two years ago and specializes in American Modernism and its contemporary heirs, specifically “non-objective art that celebrates line, texture, form and color: i.e., ‘art for art’s sake.’” The exhibition up now through April is Bohdan Osyczka: Monumental Watercolors II. Osyczka is in his late eighties, and spent most of life pursuing art part time while working as an illustrator, and it is only recently that his work has begun to find a larger audience. The show spans several decades, and Osyczka’s work range from nebulous compositions reminiscent of color-field paintings and tighter, ominous abstractions that echo Clyfford Still. The gallery’s promotional materials stress Osyczka’s methods as much as his outcomes: Osyczka built a special titling table to manipulate the flow of paint, as well as “rolling, pitching, pouring, speckling and spattering paint” to create his intended effects.

Of course, “intended” may not be the right word for a painter employing methods meant to maximize chance and happy accident. The paradox of gestural, expressive methods such as Osyczka’s is that while the end result is Modernist and concerned with formal elements, the method itself is making a conceptual claim. Art, performative painters seem to say, is as elemental and uncontrolled as the path of fire or the rolling in of a storm, and therefore the painter’s duty is to create the conditions for art (paint, gravity, etc) and watch what happens. In life, we try to control or minimize chaos, but in painting, artists like Osyczka preserve (or even encourage) chaos to find the aesthetic power within it. Exactly how that power is emphasized is dependent on the artist’s touches of willed design, and that is where the painting succeeds or fails. Osyczka’s watercolors try for a symbiotic relationship between will and chance, an admirable aim for both life and art.

01 WN/19 Watercolor on Paper 44 x 45 inches 

While it is impossible to look at a painting and know for sure which part is the accident and which part the design, Osyczka’s works do seem to contain spontaneous passages paired with elements that comment upon them. In his best works, the comments make the painting. The strongest work in the show, 01 WN/19 (the nomenclature indicates the year and number painting of that year) consists of soft vertical swaths of color encroached upon by the sideways scrape of a geometric tool. Happy chance is evidenced in one of the lines that bleeds softly outward in the grain of the paper. What would otherwise be a defined verticality becomes a compelling detail–a spidering out of color, conjuring up both striated bacteria under a slide and the iris of an eye. This accident of the medium is commented on by a single dark oval that interrupts another vertical strata. The oval is self contained and tight while the line is open and seeping–representing the contraction and expansion of both art and nature. The potentiality of the oval–a seed, a thought, an inward look–contrasts the realization of the line–color that has spread out, flattened, and can go no further. The combination of accident and careful accent create a contrast between the exhaustion of realization and the bounds of possibility.

99 WN/17 Watercolor on Paper 44 x 45 inches 

Many of Osyczka’s work are similarity successful in their judicious use of gesture and reflection. A few works fall flat, simply because disparate elements, rather than comment upon one another, seem to void each other out. 99 WN/17 consists of a rippled field of teals and purples overlaid by what looks like wobbly red staff paper complete with concentrations of paint resembling musical notations. The lines seem to hover above the field behind them, though they drip outside their pattern in way that looks calculatedly free. Occasionally, the red streaks and speckles join up with the folded peaks of the backdrop, but the overall effect is not a harmonized whole but two levels that neither speak to each other nor create an intriguing contrast. In this case, Osyczcka’s methods produced something that ends up in the uncomfortable space between spontaneity and deliberation, and therefore lacks the power of either approach.

Monumental Watercolors II is a strong collection that shows the chance inherent in all orchestration and the orchestration behind what seems like chance. In Osyczka’s best works, the question of what was intended and what merely appeared is moot: the result is a whole apart from control or chaos, natural law or man-made resistance.  What remains is the balance and sublimity of the brief moments when both art and the world cease spinning and fall together in the velocity of the stop.

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Some Responses to “Bohdan Osyczka at Sixth & Sixth Gallery” :

  1. “The combination of accident and careful accent create a contrast between the exhaustion of realization and the bounds of possibility.”

    “What remains is the balance and sublimity of the brief moments when both art and the world cease spinning and fall together in the velocity of the stop.”

    McFawn you are starting to sound like an official art critic.

    Commented caffish on March 10th, 2008.
  2. I have a piece of this wonderful mans art work. I have no idea of the number assigned to his work…but it is called “A Patch of Blue”

    Commented Catherine on March 25th, 2008.
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