Djordje Ozbolt’s Meetings With Remarkable Men at Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco

Artillery Magazine
November 1, 2007

Throughout life, everyone meets a myriad of characters. Friendships and relationships come in all forms, but there are specific encounters that leave an indescribable and indelible mark. London-based painter Djordje Ozbolt’s solo exhibition Meetings With Remarkable Men draws literary weight from the G.I. Gurdjieff book of the same name; the volume recounts encounters the Armenian-Greek mystic had as he traveled through distant lands into the far reaches of human consciousness. Each chapter is devoted to a particular memory, a parable or a short story of an experience Gurdjieff had with each remarkable man.

Framed through the novel, Ozbolt’s suite of portraits could be considered a spiritual guidebook, the subject of each acrylic painting a guru or metaphysical companion in the life of the artist. Each work is modest in size and hangs at eye-level causing the viewer to converse with each face. The figures painted, whether dead or alive, real or fictional, have formed a quorum in the gallery space, a discussion the viewer just so happens to enter. Solemn, goofy, and downright uncanny, the portraits have an awkward finesse; brushstrokes are dopey and relaxed, divorced from the traditions of portraiture.

Doofus (all works 2007) features the Fantagraphics Comics’ hero of idiocy; His Imperial Majesty Hailie Selassie, shows the Ethiopian emperor and Rastafarian god incarnate seated nobly; and Sai or Not Here I Come depicts guru Shirdi Sai Baba, and his proclaimed incarnation, Sathya Sai Baba. The crowd is telling; Ozbolt has been influenced by a disparate group of controversial icons, mystical thinkers, and pop culture oddballs. And, whether these remarkable men are found on the fringe of American entertainment or in the revered ascetic practices of Hinduism, they are presented as contemporaries whose lives inform each other.

Ozbolt’s painting doesn’t take truck with a distinctive style, but with his ability to move effortlessly through the contemporary painting landscape, creating a surprising hodge-podge aesthetic. The effect is polylingual, Ozobolt finds expression through the languages of others. Creating a patchwork narrative, these works signal a form of storytelling crafted by multiple narrators. With a smirking tone, the works underline the role personal relationships play in an artist’s life and in the development of of their practice. Collectively, the portraits exhibit a sincere and and frequently humorous relationship with the spiritual, a quality that contemporary art often forgets, and something that is hard to come by today. The specific imagination of an artist, the experiences they have, and the people they meet, all have a resounding impact on the development of artistic practice. While meaning can never be solely constructed through look at an artist’s life, in this exhibition it is entirely apt as each of Ozbolt’s portraits are engaged in a myth-making process, in the articulation of his life through painting.


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