March 24, 2013

Alex Olson, Bravo Zebra, Laura Bartlett Gallery, London

Alex Olson, Bravo Zebra
Laura Bartlett Gallery, London
23 March - 12 May 2013

LAURA BARTLETT inaugurates its new gallery space at 4 Herald Street in Bethnal Green with the first solo exhibition in Europe by Los Angeles based artist, ALEX OLSON.

Bravo Zebra brings together a new suite of paintings, each entitled Proposal and numbered according to the order in which they were completed. Introducing these works is a small painting, Press (December-February), which functions as a record of the making of the other works. Each day in the studio, the artist would peal the plastic covering off her palette and apply it to the surface of this painting, thereby notating some of the choices that went into the production of the subsequent paintings. The action of pressing against a surface and leaving a trace also stresses the exterior nature of these works and their use of the surface as a carrier of signs. 

The larger paintings, all of which are the same scale, take the name Proposal in relation to the artist’s belief that all paintings function as proposals. Each of these paintings presents it’s own subtle visual conundrum, choreographing the marks on its surface into signposts pointing in contradictory directions of interpretation. Olson favors “stock signage,” meaning signs that are untethered to a single specific meaning, which encourage a desire to define them while sidestepping a narrow read. 

For this particular exhibition, Alex Olson has employed patterns of dots, lines and textures for their extreme familiarity and simple ability to create an expectation of consistent repetition, only to be subtly undone by such means as a glop of paint overflowing its borders or by a collision with an alternative interpretation of the same marks. Colour likewise comes into play through its ability to highlight, muffle, counter, and clash. 

Alex Olson creates her marks using highly indexical tools, such as trawls, window scrapers, palette knives, plastic wrap, and low grade brushes. She points to the surface itself through dragging and rubbing paint into the face of the painting, exposing each scratch and mark embedded within it. Collectively these graphic and material marks compete against one another as they vie for the viewer’s attention through their conflicting signals. Viewed from different angles and distances, the paintings yield new sets of information, so that the encounter is one of negotiating and reevaluation. These works offer the viewer an unfolding experience of visual signs that highlight the process by which we encounter, translate and assign meaning to surface information on a daily basis.

The title of the exhibition Bravo Zebra is sourced from the International Code of Signals for boats, which Olson was specifically looking into for the maritime flag signaling systems. There is a common phrase, “Bravo Zulu” which combines the alphanumeric flags B and Z, or Bravo Zulu. However, prior to 1956 and the adoption of the International alphabet, the US referred to BZ as Baker Zebra. So the title is a non sensical one that combines the two and is about the act of communicating through visual signals on surfaces, but without a specific linguistic definition attached. It's more about cross signaling and encouraging the brain to want to decipher but without providing a singular statement, so that you revisit your decisions of how you are interpreting the visuals again and again. 

ALEX OLSON lives and works in Los Angeles, California. She received a BA from Harvard University in 2001, and an MFA from CalArts in 2008. Recent exhibitions include Made in LA, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Lisa Cooley, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Alex Olson is included in the current exhibition Painter, Painter at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. This is Alex Olson’s first solo exhibition at Laura Barlett Gallery, London.

4 Herald Street, Bethnal Green, London E2 6JT