Los Angeles

John Okulick

Asher/Faure Gallery

John Okulick continues to work in a space between painting and sculpture. While his shallow boxes of finely-crafted wood are three-dimensional objects, they are meant to be visually read against the two-dimensional surface of the wall on which they are hung. The actual, physical presence of these boxes is extended into a purely visual space through complex spatial manipulation. For instance, Elevator is subdivided into two rectangular bins, each of which is further subdivided by diagonal planks. The “far” end of the right plank abuts the same side of the box as that which appears to be the “near” end of the left plank. This visual flip-flop is further confounded by the perspectival projection of the box—actually only a shallow 17 inches—into deep space.

Perhaps it is the tangible presence of these elegant pieces that divorces them from simple visual trickery. They address not only our eyes but the space in which we exist. All the sculptures are containers, holding twigs, stones, charred wood, or, simply, space. Their placement on the wall serves two functions. They visually and physically pierce the plane which holds them, extending backward and forward into an ambiguous space, and simultaneously they identify that plane as an element of the container in which we presently stand.

For the first time in what has been a fairly consistent output of work using natural materials—wood, stone, twine, metal—Okulick introduces applied color in several pieces. Painted sticks in a variety of dry hues are held within a number of the boxes, but to my mind with less than satisfactory results. The paint and pastel seem an unnecessary intrusion into the carefully balanced ambiguity of the work, perhaps a heavy-handed allusion to the sculptures’ relationship to painting. Whatever the reason, of the works on view only one, with applied colors seems right. Reflective Fever, a large, spectacular wooden box in which a gold-leafed cube quietly rests, suggests the transmutative alchemy associated with gold, an implication in perfect harmony with the transformational qualities of the sculpture. The piece is similar to, though optically more dazzling than, the charred blocks of wood or bundles of twigs in earlier works, which likewise suggested physical change contained within visual flux.

Christopher Knight