How the World & Time Intersect, Visiting the Studio of Susan Ossman
Written by Jacqueline Bell Johnson
Artist Susan Ossman held an open studio at her home in Riverside February 9th 2019. It was a beautiful day of sunshine and chilly spring air, the first after many rainy days. Her place is nestled in the hills, with scenic rocky outcroppings in plain view of her backyard.
Susan’s official studio space is a converted two car garage, but with doors wide open it puts her in a more natural environment. As an anthropologist, she studies culture. She teaches it too, at UC Riverside. She is an expert on culture. Her research has led her around the world, intimately experiencing these cultures.
For some time now, she has been producing art as a way of “publishing,” presenting her research to the public. Some of her works explore the quantification of data. But it is taken to a personal level, exploring the humanity of those collecting and giving information that leads to the development of theories.
In the sprawling, cool interior landscape of her home the focus is the art, but delivered in comfort. Susan offers the use of her bed and her couch to sit and absorb the works. Work hangs everywhere and in context of the artist’s personal space.
Overall the palette is warm and consistent throughout, not of goldenrod but of turmeric, that shifts to a spring green and aqua. There are hints at form, their compositional placement a fuzzy impressionist suggestion of fence or open-air landscape. The color moves like plumes. Her painting weaves in and out, subtle hints of depth through contrast of the stroke and blend of paint. The brush work has a linear quality which the artist moves across the picture plane as if waving a wand.
In addition to painting she has many ephemeral and artifact like pieces that go specifically into cultural ideas. Gather Wood/Gather Words: What Goes Up In Smoke is one such project. It directly addresses the museum and its display of cultural artifacts, confronting the hierarchy of beautiful and intriguing objects over the mundane. This perceived value often neglects daily domestic tasks, and therefore the women of these societies. Within the installation there are placards, visually identical to any written museum display describing different cultural scenarios throughout history where women have gathered wood to burn for heat. As the viewer reads through each account there is a repetition that emerges, the meaning of the wood, the fire, the heat and the smoke across these varied lifestyles and time periods. The symbolism is one that still exists today: destruction, cleansing, consuming.
Below each paragraph is a bundle of paper strips tied with red yarn -a talisman no doubt, summoning the Kabalistic lore of the red string of Rachel or the Hindu Kautuka. Visible on the paper confirms the viewers discovery: this idea of gathering wood is repeated, found everywhere.
Another piece: the Poppy Project illustrates the meaning of poppies across the globe. Her work cites that infamous blood red used to honor vets from WWII but the work intertwines all types of poppies and the accompanying uses and symbolism. The familiar deep orange of California poppies can be seen in the canvases surrounding writing on the project. The paintings often live between mark and image: a canvas of blended color that the artist then applies focused line and mark upon. The style is a distinct creation of movement, a hive or flock in synchronized choreography.
Contemplating these works, the viewer is left to question the rise of such traditions and their repetitious occurrence throughout world and time. Are we as humans conceiving these ideas over and over because of some biological response? Is it written in our DNA, is it a survival instinct?
Whatever the reason, the interconnectivity is clearly illustrated and celebrated in Ossman’s work.