Djordje Ozbolt – 303 Gallery
Silent Dialogue, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 63¾ x 60 inches
Djordje Ozbolt is a Serbian turned British painter known for his storybook like landscapes brimful of art historical references. His dark but romantic vision of the world questions society through religious iconography, popular culture, art history and children’s folk tales. Ozbolt’s first exhibition at the trendy 303 Gallery is comprised of eight surrealist paintings that reflect the artist’s redactive methodology. For want of ability, or perhaps by intent, Ozbolt’s work lacks the seamlessness and the verisimilitude present in the best examples of Fantastic, Imaginary and Magic Realism. The paintings reference many art historical sources including 16th Century Venetian Painting and the Rococo French painters, as well as the English Master of exquisitely Foppish Portraits, Thomas Gainsborough. If you throw in a large measure of Surrealist Picasso, there you have it.
Generally this kind of art is excluded from the playgrounds of the hip and trendy, so it seems healthy to see it land in a good gallery like 303. Ozbolt seems pretty much at home with 303 Gallery artists Karen Kilimnik and Inka Essenhigh. While he has his moments, especially in his impressive gestural painterly abstract backgrounds, Ozbolt seems to lack Essenhigh’s painterly skill and tremendous sense of space, color and narrative. If you count yourself among the tiny insider artworld elite for whom Art Forum is still a relevant guide for quality then you can certainly decide to like Ozbolt’s work because it is showing at one of the right galleries. If you are in the elite or follow its rules and Ozbolt showing at 303 isn’t enough for you to like it on that basis alone, then you will not like it. Not because you don’t like it, but because you would be afraid that it would be too easily liked by Chagall loving, Escalade driving, suburban living, Pilates class taking ladies, and for you context is king.
Sunday Best, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 59 3/4 x 60 inches
What I do like about the Ozbolt exhibition is that it is the sort of art that a UPS or FedEx man (generally a cerebral group) could relate to and that the paintings raise the hackles (what the heck are hackles anyway?) of the self-styled elite who would denigrate it as trainer or “starter” art. This type of art it is generally dismissed by art world snobs simply since it is the sort of thing that people in the real world enjoy. Save for the 303 context, insiders would sniff at these paintings and wipe off their collective shoe as if they had stepped in a pile of Mark Kostabi paintings. But without a crystal ball, we don’t know if Ozbolt gets to stay on the inside with permanent membership to “serious” art world relevance, or if he will one day be thrown out on his surrealist van Gogh ear. Time will tell.
Offering, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 71¾ x 67¾ inches
In Offering, in what must be a specific lift from an Italian Renaissance painting or perhaps an El Greco, Ozbolt depicts a beatific Sephardic woman looking skyward, gifting God a string of sausages, a pick-me-up bouquet and what looks to be a game bird perhaps a pheasant. It’s an odd gift basket assortment. Perhaps God came a day early and she hadn’t finished preparing her offering and grabbed whatever was lying around. Where is the fruitcake? In a world in which faith and religion, even in its diminished state, is tearing the world into broken pieces, Ozbolt may be expressing the ineffective result of searching for communication with each other, nature and the spirit world, and implying that the burden of today’s modern age is not entirely to blame for the delirious nature of our socio-political Armageddon. Perhaps a warm bowl of chicken soup would help… it couldn’t hurt.
Noble Bubble Man, 2010, acrylic on board, 27½ x 23¼ inches
Portrait of a Noble Bubbleman is a rather marvelous recapitulation of Picasso’s Portrait of Sabartes from 1939. Here Ozbolt’s subject, Picasso’s closest friend from his days in Barcelona, is captured in a moment of continuous slow disappearance: the face with a ruffled collar consists entirely of bubbles. Picasso’s life was filled with loss and gain and it was the act of painting that fulfilled him, sustained him and grounded him through it all. Perhaps Ozbolt is saying that we are all Picassos, even if we all can’t paint like him.
In general the work in the exhibition has an absence of sophisticatedly rendered light and tangible atmosphere. If you are like me, the art historical references may make you ache to see the originals, an early surrealist Picasso or better yet a psychologically taut, energetic and enigmatic Max Ernst. That said, I found paintings by Ozbolt on Google images that were strong, often stronger than those in the 303 exhibition. They were less reliant on quoting, more inventive and less familiar.
I like this show with some reservations. I am very curious to watch out for the next show of this intriguing 43 year old with the c.v. of an up-and-coming 20 something.
Bunny, 2010, acrylic on board, 27½ x 23¼ inches
Djordje Ozbolt has had his work included in the Tate Triennial, London; “5000 Years of Modern Art – Painting, Smoking, Eating”, Villa Merkel, Esslingen, Germany; “The Library of Babel / In and Out of Place. 176 Zabludowicz Collection”, London; and the Prague Binennial. A catalogue of the artist’s work is forthcoming from JRP | Ringier.
Meredith Rosenberg currently lives in New York City where she is the Gallery Director at BravinLee programs and partner in BravinLee editions (hand-knotted rugs by contemporary artists). BravinLee programs is pleased to present Rebecca Morales’ new exhibition While There’s Calm opening Jan. 21, 2011 www.bravinlee.com