Los Angeles

Sabina Ott

Mark Moore Gallery

There is a domestic wildness, a rhythm-as-layered-energy to Sabina Ott’s new paintings. Pigmented encaustic, poured and manipulated onto rich mahogany panels, evolves into forms that oscillate between uneven grids and tangled, intertwined lines, alternatingly suggesting roses and arteries.

Roses have been the focus of Ott’s attention for the past several years. Of course, the rose is an ancient poetic symbol, an icon of male and female, beauty and pain, love and death. But Ott’s new series of paintings, “the sub rosa series,” 1993–94, does not evoke the roses in Dante, Robert Burns, or even Gertrude Stein. Neither are they William Blake’s “sick roses” or even Georgia O’Keefe’s fragile abstract beauties. Ott’s abstractions possess a primal energy coupled with a sense of quiet meditation that suggests a unity of body and mind, of the imagined and the realm of reason. The blue and red colors of the earlier series are still present in this new body of work, and they still evoke bruising and blood, but now they have a relationship to the metaphysical. This is emphasized in the exhibition by the presence of four sculptures of heads displayed on pedestals. Suspended inside two translucent heads are sinews of wax, and in one sculpture these wax entrails look like half-hidden flowers. The slightly tilted angle of the heads suggests waiting, hovering, listening, openness.

Within the vibrant energy and sensual, sinewy surfaces of the wax and oil paint, Ott has created spaces, or gaps, of silence and contemplation: “Weltinnenraum” (world-inner-space) is what Rainer Maria Rilke called such spaces: “the space untouched as the inside of a rose, an angelic space in which one keeps still.” Unlike Jasper Johns’ use of encaustic to produce flat areas, Ott has employed a pouring and flowing technique that creates layers and folds that recall those of a rose. The rose as mystery, each soft petal encircling and protecting the other until they encircle and protect nothing. And yet the space is not empty. It sees like an inner eye, representing an inner power, a different sense of seeing. It is what Rilke calls “full” emptiness in the poem “The Bowl of Roses”: “And this: that one opens like a lid/and lying under there nothing but eyelids/closed, as if they, tenfold sleeping/had to muffle an inner power of seeing.”

In these sensuously overloaded and quietly meditated paintings, Ott doesn’t sedate the psyche. Instead, in the words of James Hillman, they are celebrations of soul that “encourage, maybe even inflame the rich and crazy mind, that wonderful aviary.... of wild, flying thoughts, the sex-charged fantasies, the incredible longings, bloody wounds, and the museum of archaic shards that constitute the psyche.”

Rosetta Brooks