Howard Oransky’s new paintings, up at Form + Content right now, are snapshots. Not literal snapshots, of course; you’ll recognize nothing of this world in his seven abstract canvases, each a cheerful confetti toss of wing-like brushstrokes. They’re snapshots in the metaphysical sense—coded terrains that, when read empathically, reveal the purest nature of the artist. Study the brushstrokes, Oransky tells us, and know the man who made them.
Think astrology. You take a snapshot of the heavens on the exact minute and at the exact geographic location of your birth, and the configuration of the planets spells out your entire life. As above, so below. Well, for Oransky it’s as on the canvas, so in my heart.
Sound New Age-y? It is. But it’s also an erudite art-history allusion. Oransky’s no dope. The guy’s pulled lengthy tenures at both the Walker and MCAD, and currently is the director of the University of Minnesota’s esteemed Katherine E. Nash Gallery. And he kicks off his statement for the Form + Content show with this quote from Robert Henri, luminary of the Ashcan School of painting:
The brushstroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of being of the artist at that exact moment into the work. [emphasis is mine] There it is, to be seen and read by those who can read such signs…
There it is, indeed. Art as some mystical, spiritual encoding, to be deciphered only by the initiated or otherwise supernaturally gifted. If you can get past the elitism here—and you should; we can all “read such signs”—it’s a pretty cool way to think about viewing art. It makes you look at each brushstroke as a precise, emotionally fraught moment in the artist’s life.
So how was Oransky feeling when he made these seven paintings?
I’m going to go with jubilant. The brushstrokes, to me, convey the slow-motion ecstasy of a really happy pillow fight. Specifically that moment when the pillow tears and the feathers burst out and dance in a weightless cacophony, like dust particles suspended in sunlight. The wispy tendrils of paint aren’t moving upward. They’re not moving downward. The vertical motion is dual-directional and infinite. This “suggests the passage of internal time,” Oranksy says in his statement. He’s being New Age-y again. What it really does is make for great gestural painting, the kind that makes a viewer’s heart leap.
Is Oransky a super happy guy? He seems like it. He’s selling his paintings for five figures each, and he’s dedicating the show to a woman he’s been with for 35 years.
If that’s not pillow-bursting happiness, I don’t know what is.