Lost HorizonNatalie Westbrook
OMNI is pleased to present Lost Horizon, an exhibition of new works by American artist Natalie Westbrook. The American artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK, the exhibition signifies one of OMNI’s first two exhibitions of 2023, opening the 26th of January and running through February 25th, 2023.
Lost Horizon takes us on an unbridled journey through an unmapped terrain of possibilities in painting, evoking the openness and freedom of unabashed creativity. Westbrook’s rigorous material and pictorial inquiries meander through the alleyways of art history and confront the limits of what makes painting possible. A raw, energetic blend of spray paint, acrylic, oil paint and stenciling techniques allude to a spectrum of influences, ranging from gestural abstraction and graffiti to printmaking and 17th century Dutch trompe l’oeil vanitas painting. Trained at Cooper Union and Yale University, Westbrook’s deep formal understanding of art history, process and material seeds a wildly impulsive and experimental practice with irreverence for conventional aesthetic values.
Vibrating between abstraction and figuration, Westbrook’s unique vocabulary of painterly methods flirts with garish color, frenetic patterning, glaring eyes and lipsticked grins that proliferate with abandon. Her urgent and insistent repetition of faces, flora and fauna evoke themes of fertility, the infinite and the baroque. Not landscapes per se, but of nature and the body, Westbrook’s world embraces the disorientation of lost horizons. We see no ground, no boundaries, no gravity nor linear perspective in her works. She forgoes narrative in favor of reverie and centering of peripheral vision. Colored light and floating shadows define the forms in this weightless realm. Westbrook allows us to see the unseen. Strange worlds spawn across large claustrophobic canvases in both monochrome and vibrant color palettes. Spirited eyes stare out from within the paintings, returning the gaze of the viewer. Rejecting didactic allegory, Westbrook embraces sensation as a central focus. Sensory experience governs and the nervous system is her gestalt.
Spontaneity permeates the works in this exhibition. In Westbrook’s practice, the painting process dictates composition. Whether painting or sculpture, the palpable energy of the very act of making lingers in the finished works. Painting and sculpture as verbs— not nouns— drive Westbrook’s ethos. The works in this exhibition boil over like alchemical mixtures of rapidly expanding material, formal, and art historical meditations, charged with the energy of her gesture in time.
Sometimes working directly on raw canvas, the artist emphasizes the immediacy of her process, and attention to material choices. As much as a painting acts as a window into deep illusory spaces, we are reminded of its material surfaces. This tension between the pictorial and material aspects of painting underscore Westbrook’s interest in formal and conceptual notions of space. The slow mimetic brushwork that carefully defines a striped leaf, an eyelash, or whiskers on a cat confronts energized paint splatters and spectral contrails of spray paint, all highlighting the painting surface alongside scrawling marks of oil pastel drawing. One can see the artist’s pleasure in immersing herself in the physical aspects of materiality and movement.
In Lost Horizon, Westbrook’s dream-like worlds do not resolve into escapist surrealism. Instead, her confrontational imaginings reject the limitations of artistic stylization and offer emotional pitch, detachment and humor. Her rapid passage through varied modalities is not about an appropriation of styles, nor a post modern stance. Rather, her uncompromising divergence celebrates ambiguities, discoveries, and indeterminacies as human experience. As such, images of stacked heads and smiling faces, untamed nature and primitive shapes are not a projection of the artist’s internal vision of the world onto others but rather a catalyst for a viewer’s own discoveries and associations. The existential spaces of night conjure elusive and obscure realms full of possibilities.
Accompanying the paintings is a video collaboration with artist, Johannes DeYoung. Westbrook and DeYoung are frequent, long-time collaborators and their contribution for this show extends the haptic and associative themes of Westbrook’s paintings into the realm of electronic, time-based media.
Westbrook received her BFA from The Cooper Union, her MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies from the University of Louisville, and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Yale University School of Art where she was awarded the Robert Schoelkopf Memorial Travel Grant and the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Excellence in Painting. Westbrook’s work is held in private and public collections around the world, and she has exhibited at The Hole, Los Angeles, CA; Freight+Volume, New York, NY; Rarity Gallery, Mykonos, Greece; and Galleri Golsa, Oslo, Norway.