Contributed by Robin Hill / Stepping into Bobbie Oliver’s solo exhibition “Residuals” at High Noon triggers sensations of spaciousness, familiarity, and equanimity. Initially, the paintings invite narratives of how the residues of saturated, ultramarine pigment on canvas came to be, and to what genomes they belong — architecture, the body, the cosmos, the atmosphere, the petri dish? A flood of such inevitable associations arises, only to fall away as a strong optical pull takes over, and we settle into the paintings’ spatial and cosmological resonances. One is struck by the feeling that the forms themselves are in slow, albeit imperceptible, processes of transformation.
When isolated from the whole, small areas of dense, accumulated pigment appear to suggest landscapes, figures, fractals, tear drops and text. Oliver’s impulse to situate multiple self-enclosed worlds within the space of one canvas is poetically aligned with Japanese and Chinese scroll painting. Our eyes, serving as the apparatus for scrolling, complete a sense of the whole.
It is impossible to separate the action of making from the final resolution of the work in this exhibition. As Oliver herself states, the making of the work was “an exercise in focus.” Similar in spirit to John Cage’s use of the I Ching as a tool for indeterminacy and his intention “to imitate nature in her manner of operations,” Oliver employs processes of chance, such as spilling and dripping, in order to avoid conscious mark-making. This establishes the necessary starting point for a responsive and collaborative engagement with her materials.
Layers of wet-on-wet interventions, combined with blotting and scrubbing (facilitated by an array of utilitarian house painting tools) coalesce into complex but spare works that, despite their origins in accident, are full of intention and exactitude. Oliver’s interest in process has historical roots in the stain paintings of the Color Field movement, most notably those of Helen Frankenthaler. The performative aspect of Oliver’s work, coupled with her singular deployment of ultramarine blue, recalls Yves Kline’s 1960 pieces “Anthropometries of the Blue Period” and “Blue Sponge.”
Ultimately, Oliver’s paintings embrace phenomenology as a philosophical gestalt and offer nothing short of an invitation to ponder the transitory nature of being itself. Her paintings are in dialogue with the meditative, minimalist work of Agnes Martin and the mediumistic, geometric work of Hilma af Klint. Oliver’s work, like theirs, evolves from a slow and thoughtful meditation on order and disorder, as a record of a lived experience.
The use of the word “residuals” suggests a condition within the paintings more than a description of the forms that appear in them; a condition of absence tinged with a feeling of presence, as well as a condition of presence tinged with a feeling of absence. It is the pulse between polarities that constitutes the poignant power of Oliver’s paintings.
“Bobbie Oliver: Residuals,” High Noon, 106 Eldridge St., LES, New York, NY. Through April 14, 2019. Concurrently on view:“Bobbie Oliver and Magaly Perez,”Catskills Art Society (CAS)Arts Center, 48 Main St., Livingston Manor, NY. Through April 20, 2019
Artist bio (from gallery website): Bobbie Oliver lives and works in New York and Rock Valley, NY. She has exhibited in New York at Hionas Gallery, Feature Gallery, Showroom, Valentine Gallery as well as solo shows in Toronto at the Olga Korper Gallery, in Los Angeles at the Jancar Gallery and The George Gallery in Laguna Beach. She has received awards from The Canada Council, The Ontario Arts Council, The New York State Council for the Arts and the Pollock Krasner Foundation.
About the author: Artist Robin Hill focuses on the intersection between drawing, photography, and sculpture. She is a faculty member in the Studio Art Program, Department of Art and Art History, at the University of California at Davis and is represented by Lennon, Weinberg, Inc. in New York.
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