Thomas Reynolds Gallery’s latest exhibition holds — and resolves — subtle tensions gracefully. Sandy Ostrau’s Paradise Revisited collects 15 of her abstract paintings inspired by the California landscape. These works tell stories yet resist narrative. They capture wholes without losing the contrast of their parts, and form abstractions that sublimate the figurative.
The oscillation between the lack and abundance of story is felt as the two opposing walls of the gallery seize the viewer’s senses. The show renders vacillation personal. The artist is not a visitor to paradise so much as a pendulum swinging in and out of it. We see separateness morphing into togetherness and back. In a bittersweet retelling of our ecological relationships, Ostrau’s figures first fuse with the landscape and then reclaim their singularity. Compelling examples include “Dunes Pass,” where the figure self-erases into the dunes, and “Wild Flowered Path,” where the figuration borders on camouflage.
Looking at “Intimate” or “Seaside Walk,” I felt a charged negotiation between melancholy and surprise — along with a subsequent release. “Melancholy” because Ostrau’s reencoding of reality as simplified blotches makes human loneliness starker. “Surprise” because the mind then wonders how — and more poignantly why — so little can evoke so much. Ostrau’s mastery resides in the resolution that follows. Her paintings’ physicality, literal depth, and thickness take over.
Through her work, Ostrau reinstates the senses as the most trustworthy guide to experience. She scrapes her paint, gathers her oil in mounds, and spreads it as one would soil in a California garden. It’s an invitation to break out of representation. The more time I spent with the pieces, the less story mattered and the more consoling they became, almost like the California sunsets I’ve been lucky to witness.
Sandy Ostrau’s Paradise Revisited is at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery through May 31. The gallery is at 1331 State Street and is open from noon-5 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and by appointment. For more information, visit thomasreynolds.com and sandyostrau.com or call (415) 676-7689.