Other than receiving cordial invitations to exhibition openings with free food and booze, there's nothing more satisfying for an arts writer than to witness the continued progress of an artist of talent. Truth is, for as many promising and practicing artists as there are in this world there are just as many who have succumbed to the very real fatigue visited upon them by the cold yet practical need to, ya know, make a living. And those who can do both consistently are indeed worthy of praise.
Since Cricky first blogged him up in 2009, Milwaukee-raised painter Boris Ostrerov has managed to keep the artsy dream alive and kickin', adding an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to his curriculum vitae last year, while keepin' the lights on with a steady job as a butcher at Whole Foods.
Lest you believe this balancing act to be one of ease--and, really, ya gotta be completely naive and/or nuts to believe that--Ostrerov did endure a painful hiccup that threatened to tip the scales. Finding himself without a studio space after graduation, he stopped painting. In his words,
"That break from painting sucked soooo much, I vowed to not take a long one again. So I decided to go all in, discovered 0% APR credit card deals, found a super cheap studio space on the beautiful south side of Chicago and started leasing in early 2014."
And that's one more testament to the fact that there can be no freedom without risk.
Over the past three years or so, Ostrerov has been experimenting in the combo painting/sculpture realm, which just happens to be the area most traditional art critics have the toughest time wrapping their brains around. Though their mouths be silent, their eyes shout, "Is it a painting? Is it a sculpture? Good Artsy Gods, tell us so we can classify this work immediately and slam another Chardonnay!"
Both of his recent Stacks and Wasted series, now on display at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center's Ploch Art Gallery in Brookfield, exemplify this stodgy critic-confounding marriage perfectly, as he builds brushstrokes, one a top another--a process that slowly turns 2D into 3D, which is clearly observable in the finished pieces.
While the Stacks series is undeniably abstract, relying exclusively on process, color and structure, the Wasted series conveys a narrative through the loose use of figurative representation, specifically the faces of young college men who have passed out at parties and have been "defaced" by their friends--i.e. drawn upon, covered in whipped cream, etc.--and hilarity ensues.
I asked Ostrerov about the impetus for this series, if these pieces derived from personal experiences he may have had, and, as expected, his answer was thoughtful and thorough:
"I never was a victim of one of these rituals, and don't remember participating in the act of shaming myself, yet I feel some kind of empathy towards all that. One time I went to a party, and in the middle there was a guy sitting on the couch which was the inspiration for one of the first pieces in the series, and he was totally passed out, and someone tilted his hat which said 'Public Enemy #1.' His friends said he drank so much at the pre-party that by the time he got to the party he was puking. It brought a bunch of thoughts to me. He partied so hard, so quickly that now he's not partying, not present, but physically there, just a body. He's in a different world now, and he seems so tranquil. He sort of escaped all the 'work' or hard play one has to do at a party. I could relate to him. Jokingly, I offered to buy him a red cup. I wasn't really part of that college frat party lifestyle, and never got to experience scenes or activities like in the paintings, and for me there's a longing for that experience. I sort of get to re-enact it in the painting by myself, playing both the victim and the culprit. I do see those guys as heroes, it's like who can run the fastest, jump the highest, drink the most. These guys drank the most. But at the same time they are all failures because they couldn't hold their liquor, drank more than they thought they could, and now have all this crazy shit on them. Maybe anti-heroes? The images are so hilarious, the 'decorated' faces look ridiculous, but also quite horrific, I like that dark side of them after the beautiful paint marks, and I liked how it's hard to find the face among all the marks, or food-stuffs smeared across these bodies. I was so fascinated by the creative ways these people found to decorate/deface these human bodies with household materials; it's artistic. Very relevant to my painting practice past and future, is my interest in surface, and viewing something in visual terms rather than thinking about the cultural or moral implications or associations behind the forms."
I also asked him if these pieces speak to the complicated and messy emotions young men feel as they try to find direction into manhood, or if I was reaching a bit with that. Turns out I was!
"I think they could stand for the complicated or messy emotions of young men. Maybe they were yearning or desiring something more. But also they're just fun to make and look at, and it's important that they are also abstract assortments of paint blobs, marks, drips, colors."
So let that be a lesson to us, kids. Just 'cause we think a piece of art carries some message or commentary, doesn't mean it does. That's why we ask the artist!
Reaching Higher: Stacks and Wasted Series is up at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center's Ploch Art Gallery, 19805 West Capitol Drive in Brookfield, now through Wednesday, July 23, 2014. An opening reception with the artist is this Friday, June 27, from 5:30-7PM.