Self-Made: Local Shows Showcase Yen Ospina’s Digital Work | Art

Digital imagery and illustration occupy a strange place in the culture of traditional galleries of Ithaca. While digital photography is ubiquitous, images rendered or composed directly on the computer remain on the fringes of what might be considered fine art or gallery art. As for illustration – a work designed to accompany a story or a product and generally produced for reproduction – it has long occupied a world apart. While both can be seen occasionally in our formal galleries, such talent needs other formats and venues.

Self-taught local illustrator Yen Ospina currently has two exciting little shows in town. Sacred Root Kava Lounge & Tea Bar at 103 S. Geneva St. in Ithaca, which features a set of its “goddesses” while Attuned.Life Massage and Wellness (call ahead, 225 S. Fulton St. in Ithaca) shows him “Fantasy World.” Both run until the end of the month.

Her work can also be seen at Mimi’s Attic, where she works as a “furniture enthusiast”. Perhaps it can best be viewed on its website:

Ospina’s work could be called “alternative” because of its style and imagery, as well as the settings in which it could be found. It is a measure of the strength and style of his work that he aims beyond his subculture.

Influenced by Art Nouveau artists such as painter Gustav Klimt and graphic designer Alphonse Mucha and by Latin American folk traditions, the goddesses of Ospina are intense, haunting, strong. Like Klimt’s women, hers combine a fairly naturalistic approach to the human figure – most evident in their expressive faces – with a profusion of geometric and organic patterns. Unlike those of Klimt, who often fall into a generic and passive eroticism, the Ospina are distinct personalities.

Ospina’s female-centric mythology is pretty common ground, at least on the aforementioned “alternate” scene. More striking for this viewer was the fact that not all of his characters are white, which is quite rare in the racially homogeneous visual arts culture of Ithaca. The various skin tones add an additional layer to the symbolic and aesthetic richness of these representations.

The artist scans the fabrics found, using their ornate paisley patterns to dress his deities. This helps give these images an unexpected hand-glued feel.

While some of Ospina’s portraits have the horror void common to psychedelic art and some folk art, “Alizon” and “Marcela” are relatively subtle. Both use the white of the paper and a restricted palette: Indian yellow, crimson, vermilion, dark green, black. The wizarding and cashmere-clad heroine in the old room commands a crystalline yellow and red landscape resembling a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window. The woman in the latter is dressed similarly but darker. With her wide-brimmed hat and long black ponytail, she sits in the middle of six suns, the smaller ones in the distance surrounded by concentric bands.

At Attuned.Life, Ospina’s work takes on a very different, but equally confident, cast. Here, its fantastic world is dreamlike, gently magical: filled with animals, forests, abstract symbols, starry skies. Its visual style is also softer. While his foxes, deer, trees and other foreground shapes are distinctly linear, “drawn”, his backgrounds are imbued with pictorial shadows and vapors.

A small print in black and white, “The Queen Speaks”, plays with the silhouette and mirror symmetry for a seductive effect. The piece recalls the European tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries of painted or glued silhouette portraits: its flat black shapes with hard edges contrast with the warm white background. (A little fog around the lower corners lends a painterly touch.) Like a parody of the sculptural bust, a large dark mass floats atop a tiny pointed pedestal. Two identical female faces appear in profile – one facing left, the other facing right – while butterfly or Rorschach-like shapes in between support a spiked crown. Whimsical tree-shaped ornaments accentuate the top corners.

Attuned will be hosting an open gallery night with the artist on January 23 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Obviously from these two shows, Ospina is a rich and multifaceted work. (She’s also a mural painter, although I can’t speak to that aspect of her art yet.) While her figures at Sacred Root embody militant and hypnotic force, her scenes at Attuned.Life are wonderfully tender. She is a remarkable artist: all the more impressive because she is self-taught. The gallery crowd – and other savvy onlookers – would do well to seek out his images wherever they are.

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About Donnie R. Losey

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