Osyczka, Bohdan

87:61
Pure watercolor
100% rag paper
60 x 60 in
The art of Bohdan Osyczka encompasses an ongoing and unique development of watercolor that has expanded the medium’s technical, pictorial, and expressive boundaries. While embracing the essential physical qualities of watercolor, Osyczka enhances and transforms the medium’s visual potential through the use of very large paper surfaces and his inventive processes of pigment application. Abstraction, especially in large format works, has rarely been linked to watercolor. Historically, the medium was typically associated with sketching, decorative and illustrative art, or landscape imagery, and these were restrained in scale and impact by the relatively small sheets commonly used by watercolor artists. Indeed, Osyczka engaged in landscape painting in an early stage of his career. However, his approach to landscape quickly advanced into very free forms of watercolor notation, marked by buoyant patches of color, shapes with softly bleeding edges, and a great sense of pictorial openness and spontaneity. By the 1960s, Osyczka’s direction was established, and he set about adapting watercolor to rival other painting media in color intensity, pictorial activity, and size.

Central to the artist’s technique is a worktable that pivots on a universal joint. Pouring or otherwise depositing liquid pigment onto a sheet affixed to the tabletop, the artist manipulates the watery hues into waves, runnels, and washes. The applied color, unhindered by the limitations of brushstrokes, or even the edges of the work surface, is able to spread freely, resulting in great expressiveness and a literal fluidity of imagery. While this technique allows great freedom to the medium itself, Osyczka has gained mastery over the process and manages to control the flowing colors to create languorous swirls and waves, multihued puddles, bold stripes, and numerous other forms. The finished image, of course, involves an initial and essential degree of chance, but the overall composition and its elaboration through broad color areas and various forms of visual detail is very much the product of the artist’s trained eye and hand. Of course, the chance effects are significant as well. Chance, according to Osyczka, frees his creative process from rational thought – at least within the early stages of a work’s creation – and allows a more honest emotional response to the evolving image. Additional elements may be added by means of a battery of implements, including spray bottles, cups, syringes, and multiple-nozzled applicators (the latter of Osyczka’s own devising). With this equipment, the artist can integrate within the general flow of the paintings a panoply of diverse effects ranging from staccato spatters to linear trails and geometric motifs. The artist’s continual transformation and extension of the visual qualities of watercolor forcefully transcends its stereotypically presumed boundaries. Without forsaking the delicacy and subtlety that the medium can offer, Osyscka’s paintings comprise a re-imagined world of watercolor, which welcomes massive shapes, forceful gestures, and powerful compositions.

Osyczka does not feel a direct connection to any specific modern art movement. He describes his work more generally as belonging to the “vernacular abstract,” although his technique is somewhat comparable to the Abstract Expressionists. They also invented fresh ways to apply pigment and allowed their subconscious to guide their creativity. However, Osyczka credits his turn to abstract art and his ideas on the subconscious to his friend, Alan Kaprow, the creator of “Happenings” – unrehearsed, spontaneous events built around a central idea but without set narratives or development. These loosely structured, unpredictable performances, reigned into only by conceptual limits, are intriguing evolutionary sources for Osyczka’s parallel practice of freely applied washes of color ultimately contained by compositional concerns.

Along with the theoretical and pictorial aspects of his art, Osyczka emphasizes its emotional content as well. He finds that the combination of the physical production of his paintings and their ongoing visual transformation before his eyes evokes profound emotional reactions, which in turn affect the further development of the image. He bluntly states that his “work is from the gut, from the interior.” Clearly, then, his paintings are not simply illustrated ideas or formal solutions, but complete expressions of the artist.

Osyczka’s paintings often deliver an extremely potent visual and emotional impact, perhaps surprisingly so for works in a medium traditionally considered delicate in intention and congenial for small-scale rendering. Especially in those works in which the dimensions reach up to seven or eight feet on a side, making the works mammoths of the medium, Osyczka has enlarged the scope and ambition of watercolor painting itself. Visual comparisons to the large-scale compositions of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field paintings are entirely appropriate, placing Osyczka within the grand historical sweep of American artistic accomplishment of his era. At the same time, his work remains personal and of a piece, the vital product of an individual sensibility. Although not as yet fully appreciated by an art world that places (for no logical reason) pigments suspended in oily or plastic media above pigments suspended in water, Osyczka’s work speaks for itself -- an outstanding, inventive oeuvre that can stand confidently beside the finest abstract art of its time.

Jeffrey Wechsler, Senior Curator, Zimmerli Art Museum

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