Shotgun Review

Trans-Location

By Daily Serving March 11, 2013

As part of our ongoing partnership with Daily Serving, Art Practical is pleased to republish Maggie Haas’s review “Through Windows, Through Walls: Driss Ouadahi at Hosfelt Gallery,” which you can also read here.

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Painting has long offered codes for interpreting landscape and from it, a perspective on our place in the world. Claude Monet’s series of haystacks, bridges, and the Rouen Cathedral give us landscape as a clock: an unfolding of the hours of the day and time spent looking, comparing, recording, and looking again. Monet had the luck to be surrounded by gardens and fields, but how do we see the hours of our lives from the window of a high-rise building or from the street alongside a surging construction site? In Trans-Location, currently on view at Hosfelt Gallery, Driss Ouadahi works through claustrophobic views of anonymous modern cityscapes, mapping the variations, real and imagined, in the landscape of urbanism.

Originally trained as an architect, Ouadahi seems keenly aware of the failures of modernist urban planning but also open to the intoxication of the endless grids and semi-abstract vistas found in massive apartment blocks. As his sterile plots mutate into lush color and disorienting perspective, his ambivalence lends a humanist and subjective note to large paintings in which the human figure is absent.

Ouadahi’s handling of light and shade is understated; in his large street scenes light sources shift on gridded overlays. The grids could indicate scaffolding, construction, ruins, or sleek façades. These gridded paintings are more exciting when the palette is broader; a joy exists in the complexity and multiplicity that balances the sense of urban overload and numbness found in the more muted work.

 

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Driss Ouadahi. Grand ensemble 1, 2012; oil on canvas, 78.75 x 118.13 in. Courtesy of Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco.

As in all cities, green space is sanctuary. In Ouadahi’s street scenes, brushy lumps indicating plants, rubbish, and untidy medians are a relief from the grids and linear brushwork. A repeated playground theme lends a sense of emptiness. No people or cars are visible. Playgrounds are the only human-scale element, as other features—roads, streets, stairs—could be big or small, abstract or representative.

Interspersed with the cityscapes are several deceptively simple paintings of chain-link fences against smoggy cloud cover. Simple, elegant, and gorgeously done, they could almost be taken for photos from a distance. This possibility makes the brushwork more enchanting on close inspection, where the care and lightness given to such brutal material is revealed.

In gallery literature, Trans-Location introduces two definitions of the prefix trans: across and through. Ouadahi plays on the nuances of the secondary definition, stationed in one anonymous city or another, looking in and out, through windows, through bars, and through the day into night.

 

Trans-Location is on view at Hosfelt Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 23, 2013.

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