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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sub Terra Vita #47—Art as Instructor of Life Lessons: Some Thoughts on Paintings by Dan Osborne

Sub Terra Vita #47—Art as Instructor of Life Lessons: Some Thoughts on Paintings by Dan Osborne

For: NormalcyMag, Vol. 1, No. 2, July 2017
By Tim Krenz

This spring, in early sunny May, when warmth began thawing down the hibernating soil, I attended a stoked occasion that heated a learning from art. My great friend of many years, Dan Osborne, hosted his opening of newer paintings on display at a chateau winery, just north of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. In those paintings, I witnessed a new era for my friend's work as a servant to a higher and better form of human understanding.

Where this new body of works stands, so must I as a participant in life. In the theme of the paintings, Dan Osborne shows that people must own their passions for the broader visions they see, while learning to live fused as part of the world and not the sole actors in it. This comes, in my view, from Dan's newer work, in his challenge as an honest, relative spectator of the subjects he paints.

In the solarium in the southeast wing of the gray stone brick chateau, the room's white walls and glass windows and doors illuminated Dan's paintings by reflective sunlight. The perspective of some paintings immediately enticed me to the company of my own self, viewing them with a feeling now lighted on my inner morning after an immense winter slumber.

Before I saw them fully, I could view most of the exhibit satisfied with my own wandering thoughts, viewing this entire scene as part of the audience, separate from the picture. I absorbed them as an involved observer behind the painter. I shortly became a participant of the mini-panoramas, but not an obtrusive clutter like a person blocking the majesty of natural creation in a selfie photo. I do not want to see me. I want to see the scene.

Knowing Dan for well over a decade now, and in discussing the fine art of painting over those years, I see more and more of his method as artist within his work, without him never needing to tell the story he can show so well. Nonetheless, I later asked Dan to give me some verbal insights on his work over a cup of coffee weeks after the opening party.

In the late-night burst of his painting frenzies, 5 or 6 hours on occasion, that come in unsustainable spurts of time, Dan said that he does not see the result beforehand, “but I can see the direction. I never see the finished piece. . . . I don't know what that point is.” Some pieces take years, and some take hours, he told me. He added that no one would ever know it by looking at the paintings.

In painting, he never uses a photograph to paint simple replicas, and when he goes through with the need to embellish a color, or a form, or shape, he admits to a lot of trial and error in his work. “They [the paintings] will let me know what they need.” According to him, it becomes more than just a mechanism for healing an individual, himself included. “I feel like I'm healing the painting to make it right. It helps me, calming anxiety.” In that pointed statement of empathy, Dan concluded the thought: “It's the closest I get to joy.”

“Like a good meal,” Dan called the act of painting; satisfying, art form, creation—sustenance.

The “Obsession with silhouette, pink, and backgrounds,” as Dan described the exhibit that day, clearly marked some spectacular scenic impressions. Not just a droll landscape or a wildlife art print, the merit of the selections on display captured in the indirect use of color and black the new inner vistas of old scenes for me while I looked at them. I still now think of them months later.

The names of the paintings can and always should carry weight, for each of the pieces individually. “Sunrise on the Dalles,” a moment-in-time view of our venerable St. Croix River valley. “Violet Dusk.” “Trillium #1.” “Moonlight Savannah.” “Stained Glass Moonshine.” “Strawberry Moon.” All of these come with high marks as both pieces of fine art and the personal era for the artist.

“Trillium #2—Isn't She Pretty In Pink?” as Dan subtitled it (appropriately) I saw immediately upon entering the solarium. Rightfully so I noticed it first, for its quality, not only because I saw it centered directly opposite the entrance. Indescribable, beyond pinkish on a green field, it almost seemed as though blue bubbles of the flower painting floated on the flat large face of the canvas, in extra-dimensional texture. It said to me, “Hell Yeah!” A flower suspended, yet moving with bubbles coming from the wall.

“Luna in Bettula” gave the soft show, in the primary color of the oils. Balanced with the dark black outline and shapes of trees, the depth of night's sky composed in a reverse “sight-cology;” We see a moon in an everyday normal sky that hardly moves when constantly watching it, but when looking at the painting, the purple moon dangles over the earth, comfortably. The brush strokes move the moon forward in the ellipse on the large canvas, creating the movement and not just motion—free, balanced; dancing. That whole piece expands the mind of the possible on such a restricted, human-limiting medium of cloth and oil paint.

While “Luna in Bettula” made my favorite and personal rank as “best in show,” Dan's painting “Sunset on Boundary Waters” gave me a recall and direct connection with the artist's original viewpoint and his inspiration.

A long while ago, I took a paddling trip to that same Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Dan mocked his own painting to me, as a piece of “orange crayon on the dashboard” of an old car, as he said that day. It still, however, arrives at a common experience he and I must have shared, on occasions separated by long time but only little in distance.

The Boundary Waters painting also teaches me a lesson, as I now found my own theme for Dan's works on display that day. It may give me some truth to the power of some worthy passion, in how I view things in my life. Stated thus: I can not add or subtract from nature itself, from any natural form, of any kind. I can observe, I can interpret, and I can enjoy and bask in that natural moment. I must stand better, like some, without imposing a preconceived will upon it. I do take it according to my delights and whims—as it exist. Beauty has its own value, which we all get to share, as we see it. Pray we see it in the equal truth of that inspiring light.

In that Boundary Waters picture, of northern Minnesota, Dan and I saw the same thing, which my own words failed to capture as well as the painting. In my camping journal I noted the sunset during my trip that day in late June 2010:

“In the water, the tree line on the opposite shore is reflected [of] its top. And in the water, pink on the closer end of the [dark] green mirroring the lake combines the soft red, and to my right (east), I see the gold visoring over the treeline on land to the north. And five minutes ago, I could see peachy pink on the east as bright as if the sun wanted to dawn like premature morning.” (“Field Book” entry).

Dan's “Sunset on Boundary Waters” captured that rapture, letting me recall it. Comparing notes, he and I saw a similar sight, almost exact in extent, on different lakes in BWCA, in different years. The same mystical sunsets of a Boundary Waters Canoe Area separated in time? As a witness, Dan did not put himself in the painting. Why would he? Anyone in that pristine scene would only make it less universal, and an obstruction to the nature of it. Dan's entire show left the images untainted, unobstructed with the clutter, but full of image that evoke impression and interpretation. The artist giving it uniform objectivity. The paintings—nearly all of them—successfully give themselves objective meaning. Dan let the paintings know what they wanted to heal, to complete them, as he said. The subject views of the show wanted only to know themselves.

In that, Dan's gifts made the art and the audience, separately, each complete.


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