Critics’ Picks

Odili Donald Odita, X-Ray, 2013, gouache on paper, collage, 14 3/4 x 12 1/2”.

Odili Donald Odita, X-Ray, 2013, gouache on paper, collage, 14 3/4 x 12 1/2”.

Birmingham, AL

Odili Donald Odita

Maus Contemporary / beta pictoris gallery
2411 Second Avenue North
March 15–April 19, 2013

Odili Donald Odita is well known for large-scale, hardedge abstract paintings of syncopated shards of high-volume color. But for two decades, a different, more intimate body of work has woven through this output like a contrapuntal melody. For “Grey,” his first solo show in this relatively new gallery—which is already carving out a niche with its smart program in an unlikely southern city—Odita debuts nineteen small works on paper that have been made over the past ten years.

Several abstractions here evoke a Minimalist vocabulary that—unlike Odita’s sprawling paintings—mostly cleave to a modernist grid and employ a palette of primary colors. A single horizontal bar of saffron yellow against the white ground of Sword (all works cited, 2013) distills Mondrian into a meditative object. Meanwhile, the stacked black bars in Daylight invite the memory of Judd’s stacked boxes. But by altering the dimensions and color of the uppermost bar, Odita adds a directional vector and thus introduces the element of time. Some of the paintings are loose and expressionistic, such as X-Ray, with its central panel of rib-like marks over a solid red background. The rest of the show offers figurative works, many showing decorated faces naively drawn or clipped from news media. Emitting less vibratory energy than the abstract works, these latter pieces nevertheless touch on themes of cultural distance prevalent throughout Odita’s oeuvre.

One of the most important aspects of these small works is the great light they shed on Odita’s major paintings (not on view). The figurative works inoculate against claims that his work aims for a bland universalism. What’s more, the abstract works demonstrate how a heightened perception can produce narrative associations and experiential depth from the simplest artistic gestures.