LOS ANGELES: John Outterbridge

By Whitney, Kay | Sculpture, June 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

LOS ANGELES: John Outterbridge


Whitney, Kay, Sculpture


LOS ANGELES

John Outterbridge

Art + Practice

The most salient aspect of John Outterbridge's recent retrospective was its powerful originality. A prominent and influential Los Angeles artist and activist, Outterbridge creates works that embody erased, obscured, or neglected histories. Though he evokes the writings of Langston Hughes to convey an essentially African American cultural history and experience, Outterbridge converts these elements into forms that oscillate between encoded meaning and the opacity of pure abstraction. His objects are not only products of his relationship to found materials, they're linked to his childhood in the depression-era, Jim Crow-dominated southern U.S. The 83-year-old artist is part of an extraordinary generation of self-defining, Los Angeles-based, African American artists that includes Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, and Senga Nengudi; all believe in the potential of art to effect social change.

The show's title, "Rag Man," is rooted in Outterbridge's childhood experience; in his youth, he knew people who collected and sold rags, and one of his earliest bodies of work is called the "Rag Man" series. Newer works combine these ideas with concepts from his "Ethnic Heritage Group," objects that grew out of his interest in folk medicine, voodoo, and cultural superstitions in the U.S. and Africa. Similar themes characterize a group of wall works (2002-11) structured around found objects such as metal parts and carved wood that also include metaphorical and symbolic materials such as human hair and asafetida bags worn to ward off illness. …

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