For his exhibition at Moon Grove, artist David Osbaldeston has created a suite of site-specific works for the gallery’s intimate domestic location. Spread between the building’s ground floor rooms, entrance, staircase and first floor landing, Osbaldeston’s prints and paintings dwell on Nietzsche’s ‘Eternal Return[ii]’, alongside bourgeois elements of taste associated with Modernism and philosophical aesthetics development since the Enlightenment.
In the gallery’s living room, Artforum Car Share (2022), a large-scale multi-panelled multi-layered etching fills the space’s entire main wall and contains a collage of quotes and strap lines from notable articles in the American contemporary art magazine Artforum. These include Hal Foster’s piece on Richard Hamilton’s critique of mass media objects, whose signs and political dimension began with advertising and collage: ‘A pastiche of different techniques, marks and signs’[iii], T. J. Demos on The Otolith Group: ‘In its conceptualisation of reality as an open ontology’[iv], and James Quandt on the films of Pedro Costa: ‘This beautiful land of narrative’[v], a quote attributed to Jean Luc Godard. Essentially, Osbaldeston’s work synthesises ideas of criticism, literature, history, storytelling, and travel, to detourn Anglo-American discourse within a contemporary social and political framework.
Journeying is evident in the artist’s use of a British topographic panorama for the work’s background. Based on iPhone shots taken from a speeding train or car during his rides from his home in the Scottish Borders to his workplace in Manchester, Osbaldeston’s critical quotes hover on an indeterminate dusk effect indicative of a cartoon post-Brexit landscape. Text and image combine to respond to ephemeral ideas in transit around contemporary art the uncertainty of our political and economic age.
Although this nod to landscape painting as collage is stripped bare, its substance lies in the fact that it paradoxically situates a metaphor of travel literally as a ‘vehicle’ (a car share or speeding train) for the content it cannibalises. Captured through the slow method of etching, the speed alluded to is contradicted and relaxed, while connotations between the medium and message – again, gleaned from magazine reviews, features and columns that reveal the transitory production of artistic narrative – are petrified in flight, which for the artist is crucial for the animation of his work.[vi]
A number of Osbaldeston’s ‘Word Props’ are placed in the gallery’s dining room, screenprints on linen that resemble wooden measuring sticks hewn to the scale of the artist’s fingers. With the original objects shot in bright sunlight and subsequently printed and painted, they perform a dislocation between artistic ‘code’ and its text. Paired together thematically in couples that identify with collaborative roles familiar in contemporary art, design, literature, theatre, and film (we are given ‘Artist’/‘Curator’, ‘Writer’/‘Editor’, ‘Believer’/‘Sceptic’, ‘Actor’/‘Director’, and ‘Performer’/‘Critic’), the works suggest a simultaneous reinforcement and skewing of traditional power relationships. Produced in sequential arrangements according to a pre-conceived system, they throw twisted diagrammatic shapes that are as much informed by the indiscipline of measuring systems as much as the language of abstraction. Much like the giant etching in the nearby room, (both works are realised in the artist’s own Mock Modernica typeface) they form a insubordinate linguistic game[vii]: whilst formal abstraction may be viewed as an exhausted mode of expression according to historian Sven Lütticken, one that offers no privileged insight[viii], Osbaldeston’s interest is in how the imaginative repositioning of textual and visual forms destabilises a production of meaning and subverts perceptions to produce ‘an artistic re-animation of things’. In this sense, standard approaches to measurement are eschewed in favour of what are described by the artist as a ‘sensation of gestural differences’.
As is familiar with Osbaldeston’s many previous projects, the artist’s approach uses established terms as material and acknowledges that criticism in our contemporary culture can often evoke forms of humour that transcend criticism itself[ix]. Through their wit, these new works impudently pick holes in things, acting as pin pricks with the potential to expand to Malevichian black holes, in what we could describe as a financially bloated and critically anaemic art world.
Essentially, Osbaldeston creates productive ‘gaps’ in thought against the living dead[x], a fact that can be summed up by a quote from 2008 by the late Mark Fisher: ‘What Pop [alongside Pop, we might also add contemporary art and criticism] lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists.’[xi]
David Osbaldeston ‘A Pastiche of Different Techniques’ will conclude on Burns Night 2023, with the launch of a new limited-edition print. The artist was born in 1969 in Northampton and lives and works between Scotland and Manchester. His works are held in various public institutions including the Whitworth Art Gallery and Tate Collection. He is currently Reader in Fine Art at Manchester School of Art, and was formerly lecturer in Painting and Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art. He is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London.