Though the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, the freeway – hell itself in these parts – may also be a backdoor to the divine, or at least not always the devil we know. Needless to say, this only applies when there’s nobody on them. In Miguel Osuna’s modestly-scaled “Commute Series” paintings, the highways and byways are limited to one vehicle, none, or just a blur of road lights; they’re not without an undercurrent of danger while simultaneously reaching, if inadvertently, for a touch of the rapturous.
With the roads, freeways and overpasses as his muse, Osuna moves around L.A. documenting intriguing vistas with his phone (‘a cheap Qualcomm model’) or video camera, which allows him to “examine [images] frame by frame, or capture a detail” from a screen capture 15 or 20 frames away. He then distills one or a combination of several of these sources into a final ‘sketch,’ using tricks he refers to as “speed,” “time-lapse” or “torque,” and which eventually serve to build each painting.
The “Commute Series” features three or four categories of imagery, the most intriguing and mysterious of which are the most abstract. “Elemental Logic” is a sloped green blur under a night sky that proffers the viewer a range of interpretations; and not knowing quite where you are - hovering between familiarity and thinking you know, and just not knowing - gives the work an edge that keeps you lingering. “Tell Me Your Story” is equally elusive, teasing you towards a finite interpretation that never quite gels.
Within Osuna’s new series there are also more straightforward paeans to the road and/or the freeway through rather conventional realism, and these range from elegant portraits of muscular, Mark Di Suvero-esque overpasses (two of these works, at 4 feet square, are the largest in the show) to more pedestrian (no pun intended) single vehicle shots of someone on their way somewhere, with a strong implication of escape. “Peace Within Limits,” featuring a lone minivan, or perhaps an S.U.V., heading under a series of overpasses, manages to confound such limitations, conjuring Georgia O’Keefe while somehow making peace with. . .something, whether it be our graceless conventions or our alienated modern life. Catherine Opie, through black and white photography, documented Southern California’s tangled veins of freeway intersections by embracing their banality, their matter-of-factness, their inevitability; for Osuna, the distillations seem to be a process of aestheticization, minimizing the plethora of bad associations while simultaneously enhancing a fantasy-laden dynamic with the great beasts that chain so many of us, so that, if nothing else, we may see them a different way.
In “Bajo La Bandera De La Libertad,” a scarlet red road becomes a bull ring; in “Limited Selection” half of the road rises above us in an enveloping perspective reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series (a 20th century paean to the road). At this scale (18” x 24”), where landscape realism tends to call for more of a visual immersion, skewing towards the abstract and ambiguous is likely more fertile ground. On the other hand, does the oscillation between more representational and more abstract raise the bar for each in its contrasting dynamic? Perhaps. Gerhard Richter, the inevitable master reference when it comes to both blurred realism and multitudes of styles, still presents single bodies - either abstract or representational – per solo showing. For Osuna, the march towards abstraction, peaking here with “C’Mon Make it Nice,” a pretty substantial departure from the group, could be a sign of a fertile direction ahead.
Published courtesy of ArtScene ©2010