Simon Ogden’s Owaka series, currently on view at Bowen Galleries, is a contemplative and deeply referential exploration of mixed media. Each piece is composed of layers of found lino laid over plywood – but their mundane materials belie what is, in reality, a palimpsest of discovery and opportunity.
Ogden scores successive layers of lino, exposing the pattern of the lino below. Other pieces of lino have been laid on top and together, Ogden manages to suggest identifiable objects, like birds, but in spite (or perhaps because of) his media, he never breaks his strict two dimensional, depthless perspective. It is art of immersion, the suggestive interplay between the media is inviting – begging the casual viewer to take a closer look.
The exotic and pastoral patterns that Ogden has selected hark back to the tapestry, the medieval form that also challenged the perceptions of space within a textured, but two-dimensional form. The palette of Ogden’s series harks to the Met’s famous “Unicorn” series – an ode to pastoral mysticism. Only instead of using his textured media to suggest depth, as the tapestry does, Ogden seems to delight in defying it.
It was good to see the opening well attended. Ogden was in hot demand, being tugged this way and that by interested buyers. My orbit collided with perhaps the only woman in the room who was not in a position to buy. “They’re lovely,” she said, “but so decorative”. In the cab home, I couldn’t help but agree with her – so decorative. And yet, long after the artist disappeared, we’re still looking at decorative tapestries centuries later. The real test of the Owaka series will be if they intrigue and inspire on the cluttered collector’s wall as much as they do in the whitewashed room of a Bowen.