Los Angeles

Sabina Ott

Pence Gallery

“Material Fictions” was the collective title of this exhibition, comprising five large-scale oil paintings on abutting panels and an accompanying suite of small oils on paper, all from 1988. Sabina Ott continues her esoteric couplings of symbolically charged objects, but with less of the gestural, neo-Expressionist rhetoric that urged her earlier diptychs in the direction of stylish angst. Ott subtly varies her handling of paint from one panel to another, adding another level of disjunction to the retinue of juxtaposed images that give her work its poetry of signification.

Among the prominent motifs are an ovoid form suggesting variously a serving tray, a mirror, or an egg; a tangled pile of chain links, resembling the convolutions of a brain; and the silhouette of a hand, rendered in flat green, making a gesture of benediction. These three things come together in Material Fictions #1, a diptych whose left-hand canvas panel shows a forest of splashily painted barren trees in ocher, sienna, and gray over a stained tan ground. Amid the branches is the oval, here serving as an immense, reddish-black platter on which rest coiled links of chain. The edge of this platter intrudes into the vaporous gray field of the right-hand panel, on which another forest scene is dimly visible, painted as though seen through an almost impenetrable fog. The green hand also floats in this space, covering the edge of the platter and appearing to emerge from a hidden aperture in the canvas. Scanning the work from left to right suggests the evanescence of a dream upon awakening.

Material Fictions #5 is an oval canvas divided in half horizontally, its upper portion slathered with creamy oil and encaustic in which the artist has traced a sketchy rendering of trees in a landscape. The bottom half of the work shows the upside-down, mirror-image silhouettes of the same trees, in applications of thin black over a field of gray stain. The drips and splashes seen here also mirror the waxy rivulets that seem to flow upward in the top half of the work, an illusion created by Ott’s turning the picture upsidedown during its execution. In this way, the work’s lavish and substantial presentation of its own materials is undercut by a working strategy that uses the laws of gravity to represent weightlessness.

The three panels that make up Material Fictions #4 possess distinctly different surface effects and representational modes. Upon the large, plaster-covered rectangle that surmounts two smaller panels in wood and stretched canvas, Ott has depicted drapery folds, barely visible upon the whitish incrustations. An egg-shaped form has been painted across the bottom edge of the plaster field onto the stained wood veneer of the lower left panel. The lower right shows a cluster of realistically rendered laboratory vessels, resembling the paraphernalia of an alchemist, floating in a field of solid black. For all its stylistic and material variations, the work is unified by a sense of the antique, engendered by the joining of symbol, medium, and memory.

Buzz Spector