June 1 - 30
"If anything unites the disparate arcs of her 50-year career, it's this: that Osborne's paintings don't simply inhabit the spaces between abstraction and representation so much as they gently, subtly and subversively blur them." - Jonathan L. Fischer
Osborne’s work has been described as "living landscapes that integrate complex methods of seeing and representing nature." Utilizing a technique of controlled pours of thinned on unprimed canvas to create a staining technique became a vital breakthrough for the artist in the 1970s. Aware of a similar technique pioneered by painters such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, Osborne was initially interested in capturing the light and transparency of her watercolors and translating those qualities to the canvas. Indeed, Osborne was inspired when she first saw Frankenthaler's legendary Mountain and Sea, 1952, the first of Frankthaler's to use the new celebrated soak-stain technique, and while certainly an abstraction, an abstraction that evokes a landscape. Artist Morris Louis declared that Frankenthaler 'was a bridge between Pollock and what was possible.'
This exhibition spans forty years of her landscapes, with references to mountains, islands, nature forms. These works demonstrate her lifelong devotion to the medium of watercolor. Osborne has frequently painted outdoors and most often with watercolor—some of her beloved locations are Manchester by the Sea, coastal Maine and the southwest. At different points of her long career, the artist has chosen to work exclusively on watercolor for a period of time in the studio. The resulting still lives and landscapes became defining images for the artist as they were translated to large canvas works.
Osborne spent many years as a watercolorist and has done what few oil painters are able to do. She paints in oils, using thinly veiled washes of color, in much the same way she did with watercolors. Instead of water to thin the paint, she uses an odorless turpentine product to create the effect of translucent washes of color.
"Osborne's palette and application of the watercolor medium - flat washes and softened edges - create a luminous drawing that attempts to encapsulate an emotional and psychological experience with nature." - Margaret Winslow, Delaware Art Museum
Watercolor on paper, 1990-3
9 x 12 inches
"Zooming back a bit, to bring Osborne’s earlier work into view, we see that the forms in her newest work have been evolving for years. And in paintings from just a few seasons ago we see her using those forms to picture mountains and buildings and trees. Her evolution to non-figurative stripes and fields of color has been seamless, which suggests that she leaves behind nothing crucial when she leaves out images of recognizable things." - Carter Ratcliff, Elizabeth Osborne: Luminous Gestures, Locks Art Publications
Osborne is perhaps best known for her landscapes and seascapes. Looking back over nearly forty years of work, the artist's strength lies in color, her luminous palette.
In a press release for Osborne’s 1972 solo exhibition of large-scale landscapes, Marian Locks praised Osborne saying: “In the instance of Elizabeth Osborne, I am proud and honored to be exhibiting her new work; these landscapes sparkle with an increased vitality and a remarkable individuality . . . These are truly new works . . . by a young artist who dares to do ‘her own thing.’” Emerging in the 60s and 70s within a period of art movements and scenes, Osborne has always been a bit of an outsider. Like then, she has remained true to her individualism and has always been loyal to Philadelphia.
Elizabeth Osborne in her studio. Courtesy of Lancaster Online, 2016.
Elizabeth Osborne "Liquid Landscapes" at Locks Gallery, 2020.
After graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the artist's first mature paintings coalesced during Osborne's year in Paris through the Fulbright Program. She was soon hired to join PAFA's faculty and was an esteemed instructor there from 1963–2011. Osborne has alternated long periods of working in either watercolor or oil, specializing in controlled pours and stains on unprimed canvases early in her career. This signature paint application emerged within her representational work but became a technique that helped her explore fundamental elements of abstraction.
Beginning with figurative paintings in the 1960s and '70s, she moved on to bold, color drenched, landscapes and eventually abstractions that explore color spectrums. Her experimental assemblage paintings that incorporated objects began an inquiry into psychological content that she further extended in self-portraits and a long-running series of solitary female nudes. Osborne's recent paintings present a culmination of ideas—distilled into an essence of her understanding of process and composition.
Elizabeth Osborne has exhibited extensively throughout the United States for over forty years. Her work is included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis; the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; the James A. Michener Museum of Art, Doylestown; the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia; and the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. Osborne has received numerous awards including the Percy M. Owens Memorial Award, a MacDowell Colony Grant, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award (American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters), and a Fulbright Fellowship. In 2009, Osborne was the focus of a major retrospective and accompanying publication The Color of Light at PAFA. In 2015, Veils of Color: Juxtapositions and Recent Work by Elizabeth Osborne debuted at The James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA and traveled to The Lancaster Museum of Art, Lancaster, PA in 2016. That same year, her 1960s figurative canvases were explored in greater depth at a solo exhibition, Elizabeth Osborne: The 1960s at the Delaware Art Museum.