The orderly series of paintings displayed in Berlin-based Scottish artist Oliver Osborne’s exhibition “The Neck” enhanced the cold, sterile feel of Giò Marconi gallery. Illuminated by a few rows of neon lights, partially reflected on the gray floor, the paintings eschewed emotion for a controlled sense of humor.
Upon entering, the visitor was welcomed by Caveman (Father)—all works 2015—a 7½-foot-tall white silkscreen on linen showing on its lower section a cartoon of a prehistoric man. On the opposite wall was a roughly 15-by-11-inch untitled photo-realistic oil depicting a ceramic pitcher on a table. The two works represented contrasts in size (large vs. small), content (comic vs. still life) and technique (blurred silkscreening vs. polished brushwork). Their juxtaposition was peculiar and funny. The caveman’s dumb expression seemed to poke fun at the seriousness of the miniature across the way.
Exercises in contrast and comparison structured the entire exhibition. The gallery’s main room was occupied by two more small paintings on linen—one depicting the torso of the artist’s pregnant partner (Făgăraș/Berlin), the other showing a rubber plant in his Berlin apartment (Rubber Plant)—and by six large diptychs. Three of these diptychs juxtapose acrylic monochromes (black, blue and dark green) with silkscreened images from textbooks that seem to emerge from immaculate backgrounds. In The Dog, the head of a schnauzer appears on the right side of the composition, while in 6 8 9 the titular numbers appear in a cloud, the form of which recalls drawings used for puzzles and rebuses. The Neck, the diptych that gives the exhibition its title, consists of a black monochrome beside an image of a man with an arrow pointing at his neck. The neck, as discussed in the press material for the show, suggests a conjunction of thoughts (the head) and feelings (the body), serving as a symbol for the connecting of opposing elements.
An interest in language and communication is central to Osborne’s practice. Getränke and Masculine and Feminine (The Cloud), two silkscreened diptychs, represent the words of their titles in linguistic or pictorial terms amid their compositions. Abstracted from context and treated as graphic signs, the titles appear like components of a cryptic semiotic system where communication is both suggested and denied. The surfaces of the diptychs become the stage for a semiological dilemma: How do we perceive isolated images and texts? How do we read them as viewers? What sort of linguistic connections can fragmented visual motifs induce? These questions, more than their answers, are at the heart of Osborne’s concerns.