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Sabina Ott exhibited for years in Los Angeles before an audience that generally failed to greet her work with the enthusiasm it deserved. Recently, however, there has been great excitement about the emergence of a handful of LA artists who bridge various painting practices, as Ott always has, hip or not. Her most recent homecoming show (she relocated to Saint Louis in 1996) served as a reminder of her tenacious painterly investigations of the overlaps between language, abstraction, representation, and high and low culture.

Ott's new panels, though effortless looking, are carefully worked and composed, and they invite the viewer to retrace her every move. Each piece seems to offer solutions to problems raised in a previous one while serving as a site for experiments that will develop in a later work. Putting aside the busy patterns, rhythms, and jumbled text that permeate these paintings, one could get lost in their texture and material alone, where encaustic, enamel, and oil mingle in complex inlays, overlays, carvings, pourings, spreadings, and cakings.

The compositions are pumped with information delivered in colors that hit you like a glass of spiked punch. A Spectacle is the Resemblance, 1999, is a collision of pinwheels, clouds of color, fields of flowers, horizontal and vertical pinstripes, a sea of text and planetlike circles falling into line. The Green Green Meadow, 1999, tosses a confetti of multihued flower shapes at the viewer, but Ott complicates the offering by placing a large gray flower like a target in the center of the panel. Everything That is Being is Always Repeating, 1999, is arguably the most charged of the group (though to claim that any of Ott's paintings is more charged than another is to split hairs). Seeming to reflect the velocity of life--which here looks rather like the speed of light--the panel is dominated by thin horizontal lines that race in and out of the picture plane like cars on a speedway. Whizzing across the surface are more of Ott's flowers. The painting is punctuated by a massive, polka-dot letter S and a looping ge sture like the letter O--the artist's initials, but more important, the word so. The placement of one flower hints at a period, but the punctuation is redundant: There's little doubt that this is a declaration, not a question.

In so much contemporary painting, a work seems to serve as a vehicle for viewer and artist to confirm smugly that each knows what the other knows-- they've read the same texts, seen the same art, absorbed the same stimuli. Perhaps we tend to like such artists because to claim them as edgy is to see ourselves as equally edgy. Ott, however, engages her audience in a much more challenging, rare, and refreshing manner. Through hard thinking and hard labor, she pushes each piece, and her viewers, into slightly unknown territory. She is one of the few painters who are truly interesting yet difficult to like--because she's always plowing ahead and making us come along too.
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Author:Miles, Christopher
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Previous Article:RICHARD LONG.

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