Jul 28 2021
“Pandemic of Color” – is on display August 14 through September 5, 2021 in Building W-10 with an opening reception Saturday, August 14, 2021 from 6pm – 9pm.
FERNANDO OSORIO: UNCOVERING THE SPIRITUAL POTENTIAL OF COLOR
By Constanza Ontiveros Valdés*
The essence of painting has always been to make it [the universal] plastically perceptible through color and line. —Piet Mondrian Peruvian-American artist Fernando Osorio has followed an unconventional yet deeply spiritual and empirical path to art. After having pursued a career in science, particularly in engineering studies, Osorio fully committed to painting and devoted himself to a contemplative lifestyle. This duality grants his work a balanced and holistic aura strongly sensed throughout the artist´s new exhibition at the Workhouse Arts Center, in Lorton, Virginia.
Osorio, now based in a Northern Virginia-Washington D.C. suburb, created most of the thirteen colorful and seemingly abstract acrylic paintings included in “Pandemic of Color” during lockdown, when, due to his almost monastic way of life cemented in a daily routine alternating between meditation, reading, physical exercise and studio time, the artist was able to focus even more in his artistic production. Aside from the obvious reference to the ongoing health crisis, the exhibition´s title affirms the spiritual potential of art as a transformational tool for coping with any crisis, and for finding beauty in suffering. More so, the works on display invite us the viewers to stop, look and breathe the energy of life through its many colors one moment at a time.
Stylistically-wise, the acrylic paintings featured at the Workhouse Arts Center reveal delicate and gestural abstract traces and symbolic motifs placed over monochromatic and lively backgrounds. To construct his paintings the artist usually begins by sketching preliminary drawings on notebooks. However, Osorio´s working process is deeply intuitive and, more often than not, his sketches are adapted and transformed as he works directly on the canvas where he dutifully adds layer upon layer of acrylic paints using sponges, palette knives, paintbrushes, or images transferred from cardboard to achieve a myriad of effects and textures. In this way, some of his paintings have intricate details, while others include paint splatters and drops and appear to be left unfinished. Next to his ongoing experimentation with acrylic, on occasion, the artist uses different sorts of tapes to create striking divisions and lines across his carefully structured yet emotional compositions.
Importantly, for Osorio, there is no such thing as the final touch of a painting. On the contrary, he views his art as a continuous body of work frequently constructed in series inspired by Art History, nature, or symbolically charged forms. This approach to art-making is seen in “Joy” and “Direct Path,” two large-scale polyptychs included in this exhibition that speak to each other through their similar color palette and the presence of reiterative and intricate organic motifs. Interestingly, each of these two works is composed of four independent canvases that can either be placed as individual artworks or next to each other creating one large-scale painting. When placed together, the works integrate a moving pattern of shapes and forms and, when viewed separately, each segment reveals its intrinsic structure. Both works evidence Osorio´s mastery of the elements of art and the principles of design and bring forth his experience in engineering where structure is everything.
Next to Osorio’s interest in organic patterns, some of the works in this exhibition revolve around topics that have permeated the artsist’s decades-long practice. For example, a good number of paintings wink to the work of important early 20th-century European artists whose style has a spiritual component. Such is the case of Piet Mondrian, who believe abstraction, and particularly the grid, could serve as a universal pictorial language representing the dynamic, evolutionary forces that govern nature and human experience. Osorio’s art is thematically and formally connected to Mondrian’s work. While the use of the “Mondrianesque” grid is seen in many other paintings by Osorio, in this exhibition the works “Hello Mondrian 1” and “Hello Mondrian 2” directly honor Mondrian’s legacy. However, contrary to Mondrian’s stoic grids, in this case, the artist added an intuitive component to the geometrical balanced compositions by overlapping gestural brushstrokes over the minimal layout.
On the other hand, some of the works in this exhibition are inspired by the deeply stylized figures created by the Italian painter and sculptor Pablo Giacometti, who explored the fragility of the human condition while portraying his symbolic vision of the world. Giacometti’s influence is seen both it the deeply vertical and narrow format chosen for some of the paintings presented in “Pandemic of Color” and int eh elongated monochromatic characters included in them. Osorio says the first work of this series, and the one whose title explicitly refers to the artist is “Hello Giacometti.” Here, an elongated white figure is painted over a blue background that includes the ever-present grid. In the artist’s words, aside fro the stylistic reference to Giacometti, these mysterious characters and the vertical format also “…symbolize the human being standing, aware, present, and poised facing adversity and life as it is.” Next to Giacometti’s oeuvre, Osorio’s characters seem to have a ritualistic component and remind us of the figures represented in cave paintings. Once again, this type of work reiterates the artist’s desire to uncover the divine essence of the human being.
Yet another symbolically charged element featured in this exhibition, and in a good number of Osorio’s paintings are the flags. For years, the artists has been attracted to the movement of the flags and has been intrigued by how these objects identify a group of people linked by the same ideal, nationality, or ethnicity. Nonetheless, according to Osorio, to obtain freedom human beings must free themselves of such attachments and embrace the true flag of life which is the spirit by itself. This vision is captured in the paintings “Dancing with Flags” and “Cosmic Flags,” where we see a group of schematic monochromatic flags across the composition. It is as if they are trying to evade all attachment.
Now, it is important to remember that the motifs and symbols characteristic of Osorio’s visual language —mainly the grid, elongated characters, the flags, or the spirals—, are connected and frequently interact and collide inside his paintings. All in all, for this artist one topic does not exclude the other, on the contrary, it enriches his distinctive symbolic vocabulary and forms part of the artist’s spiritual quest of manifesting the universal and the infinite nature of the self through his art. As Mondrian would say, “the artist is essentially the channel…”
* Constanza Ontiveros Valdés is an independent scholar, holds a Ph.D. in Art History by the UNAM, Mexico City. She has worked as a Curatorial Associate at the Contemporary Art Museum in Santa Barbara, California, and as a Research Assistant at the Jumex Museum in Mexico City. Ontiveros frecuently writes about art and culture.