Thursday, March 4, 2004
Traditionally, scenery is idealized in landscape painting. The canvas is a perfect composition of trees and water. If a road runs through the scene, it is a winding dirt road. Guard rails are erased for the pleasure of the viewer. Piles of dirt and heavy equipment from nearby construction are conveniently cropped out of the picture.
Landscape painter Erika Osborne is done painting pretty pictures.
As a climber and hiker who grew up in Utah, Osborne said she is more at home in the outdoors than anywhere else, but she sees more than composition when she looks at a potential painting subject.
"I shifted from using landscape to master painting techniques into a more intimate examination of those landscapes where I am dealing with issues," Osborne said. "So often, you're standing on the side of a road as you paint, or the aspen that you are painting is right next to a ski resort.
"I'm more interested in communicating how much (the culture of the West) has influenced the land. My paintings are subtly political, dealing with things like how we desecrate the land with roads."
Area art lovers may remember Osborne's work from the "2002 Artists to Watch" exhibit held at the Depot Art Center in June. She showed two pieces. One in particular named "Tree Tag" touched a chord with many viewers. The piece was painted on two panels, each measuring 4 feet by 5 feet.
Osborne built layer upon layer of scrubby New Mexico landscape with oil paints, oil sticks and fluorescent pink spray paint. The pink, recognizable as the color of ribbons used to mark trees to be cut down, was incorporated into the entire landscape.
"Living in the West, depending on where, there is everywhere a strange juxtaposition of nature and culture," Osborne said. "I have a lot of friends in Salt Lake City who are graffiti artists, and I was thinking about how people who are not in that culture talk about graffiti."
Using spray paint in "Tree Tag" gave the painting's title a double meaning. (Tag has come to mean both graffiti writing, "tagging" and graffiti, a "tag".)
"It's kind of a symbol, an act of aggression and (in this painting) I'm reversing it's role, marking the trees like that for removal, tagging them, is their way of claiming ownership of that spot," she said. "I'm redefining what is vandalism. I don't agree that graffiti is vandalism and I'm questioning those folks who do by taking that idea, that argument, and putting it in a different context."
Osborne's work is returning to Steamboat as part of a show opening tonight called "21 Rising Stars of Contemporary Western Art" featuring the work of 21 artists younger than 31, sponsored by ArtLink and Southwest Art magazine.
She will be exhibiting another piece with a theme similar to "Tree Tag," commenting on how people write their names on trees, another way of "tagging."
"These paintings are actual places, but how I paint them is an interpretation," Osborne said.
Most of her work is imagery from New Mexico and Utah. She is a nontraditional plein-air painter, completing work on large pieces of Gesso paper on location, often transferring the ideas to canvas later in the studio.
At 26, Osborne is further along in her artistic development than many people twice her age, earning her a place as an up-and-coming art star in the Western United States.
She is in her second year of a master's program at the University of New Mexico, studying environmental arts and artists such as Donald Judd, Michael Heizer and James Turrell, who incorporate the land and surrounding culture into their work.