Twenty Years in Plattsburgh, 1985-2005

Photo of sculpture, Faded Echo
Faded Echo, 2002, steel, 28" x 24" x 19",
Photo Credit: Neal Keach

Bullet Don Osborn
Bullet Introduction by Edward Brohel, Museum Director
Art Department at Plattsburgh State

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Essay by David Colosi
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In the early 1970's before he moved to New York, after studying art in Oklahoma and Kansas, Osborn utilized a variety of emerging materials for sculpture at the time: Plexiglas, fiberglass, foam, and resin. Although he had used steel, his turn to it as the gravitational center of his work came after he accepted a teaching position in 1980 at Arkansas State University. The scrap metal yards in Arkansas offered an endless supply of cheap materials with a variety of shapes to choose from. Recalling Anthony Caro and early David Smith - and running concurrent with Michael Todd, John Chamberlin, and Mark Di Suvero - Osborn explored abstract asymmetrical forms, at times violent and at others lyrical, by forging, welding, and patining the leftovers of industry. His titles ranged from the formally obvious Static Object with Attachment to the symbolic and narrative Selene's Shadows. This style of work, which had been selected for competitive exhibitions by noted art critics such as Robert Pincus-Witten and Hilton Kramer, came with him to New York in 1985.

As with previous moves, his art morphed in his new environment. In Plattsburgh, as in Arkansas, local industry provided direction.
He solidified his commitment to steel by forging a working relationship with the Jeffords' Steel and Engineering Company. Continuing to explore singular abstract objects he stepped a new body of work up to a human scale and introduced bright automobile paints. After several years of abstraction and asymmetry, "representational" geometric forms appeared juxtaposed with twisted and beaten scraps. In Sultan's Passage a triangle points through a circle that tangled abstraction clings to. While this nine-foot sculpture stands as a door which the viewer could hypothetically pass through, retrospectively it marks the passage leading from where Osborn's work had come to where it would soon go.

The early '90s brought with it many changes of landscape. Pushing the human scale a step further and departing from traditional sculptural forms, Osborn produced a series of installation works which the viewer could now walk in and through. In the art world, installation art had captured the attention of artists and critics alike. Osborn's work was no exception with Charlotta Kotik, Thomas Lawson, and Donald Kuspit selecting it for exhibitions. Beyond geometry, representational objects like recurring staircases, ladders, chairs, and shells, now played an active metaphorical role in contrast to his earlier abstract and expressionist period. Productive parallels could be drawn to works made near the same time by Jennifer Bartlett and Isamu Wakabayashi. The political landscape suffered radical changes as well with Bush War I in Iraq and the civilian uprisings after the Rodney King verdicts. Many artists reflected the physical, personal, and political affects of these events in their work. Disillusion was in the Air, Acquittal, and Should I Turn Away demonstrate Osborn's response.

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