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Zak Ostrowski balances the organic and the industrial in new art show

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Zak Ostrowski puts his architectural skills to good use in his new show, ‘Specimen Dissection’.

The Details

Zak Ostrowski: Specimen Dissection
Three stars
Through October 14, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Clark County Government Center, 455-7030

For a hint at the significance of materials in Zak Ostrowski’s Specimen Dissection, look no further than his titles: “Tectona Grandis,” “Dalbergia Retusa,” “Yggdrasil.” This exotic collection of consonants underscores the scientific classification of the type of wood featured in each sculpture. These rare and reclaimed hardwoods define Specimen, wherein disparate materials and ecological concerns function as common denominator and formal instigator.

Ostrowski trained as an architect; this is his first foray into sculpture. Previous efforts focused on drawing and painting, organic renderings on wood that structurally examine the geometry of nature. Construction experience afforded Ostrowski firsthand exposure to industrial fabrication processes and the impact of monumental materials. Rather than eclipsing a long-standing passion for natural materials and ecological concerns, Ostrowski instead began incorporating these interests into three-dimensional forms. The resulting sculptures seek a balance between the industrial and the organic, the machined and the handmade.

The added challenge of shifting from architecture to sculpture should not be downplayed: Moving a body through space is a vastly different enterprise than moving it around an object.

Evidence of this struggle is apparent in the best work. In each piece, Ostrowski heavily works the wood to reveal and/or transform its properties. Through sanding, staining and even drawing into existing flaws and patterns, native characteristics of the wood are intended to variously enhance or recede. This labor then extends into the incorporation of steel, pipe or some other industrial material, usually functioning as a kind of mounting or base.

These material relationships drive the work. Far from simply physically supporting the wood, the industrial materials and fabrication techniques are part of a very intellectual enterprise. Ostrowski is working out formal problems, and the most interesting sculptures retain enough of the raw characteristics of each material to function as open-ended, incomplete thoughts.

“Hibiscus Elatus Gemellus” is a standout, utilizing Blue Mahoe, a rare hardwood native to the West Indies that is notable for its blue-green striation. Ostrowski creates two wing-like forms barely criss-crossing, suspended by black iron. The blue of the wood is played up to a slight iridescence. The artist’s restraint allows for the natural wood grain to contrast nicely against the iron, elegantly unforced.

Ostrowski’s formal negotiations often result in work with a very modernist appeal, as with “Specimens: GG,” a collection of hardwoods poised on steel rods. Less successful efforts overpower the natural attributes of the material, feeling forced or overworked, particularly when the artist overrides the subtlety of existing wood grain by drawing too recklessly into the surface.

The ambitious materialism of Specimen perfectly suits the drama of the Clark County Government Center Rotunda. As monumental as the exhibit aspires to be, it never loses sight of its exploratory drive.

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Danielle Kelly

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