Sandy Ostrau

November 4 — 27, 2021

Sharing, Pause, 2021 | Oil on panel | 20 x 20 inches
Sharing, Pause, 2021 | Oil on panel | 20 x 20 inches

Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce Crosscurrents, its first solo exhibition with Sandy Ostrau. Ostrau works in a bold, abstract style to create compositions in which all elements are simplified to their essential forms. Her aesthetic is heavily indebted to Bay Area Figuration, with roots in the en plein air tradition of nineteenth-century French Impressionism, suffusing her paintings with atmosphere, movement, and vibrant complementary colors. 

The natural world—in particular, the full length of the California coast and its adjacent landscapes—forms Ostrau’s greatest source of inspiration. She has worked outdoors, in situ, as well as in her studio, utilizing as a point of reference sketches and small works from nature that she has made over the years. Her aim is to convey the feeling underlying a given scene, stripping back extraneous details to cut to the core of its power. Ostrau depicts her landscapes using planes of varying shape and color that overlap and interlock, meeting as parallel lines or at angles to give the compositions a sense of depth and limber dimensionality. Affinities can be seen between her work and that of Richard Diebenkorn, who parsed the landscape by applying a colorful, emotive geometry. Ostrau’s emphasis on value, however, and on creating arresting relationships between light and dark, which she overlays with correlative hues, tightens her work by creating rhythm and pattern. 

Each of her paintings contains at least one human figure, whose features are undefined yet whose form is articulated using striated marks in the manner of Nathan Olivera, inflecting them with fullness and solidity. They could be anybody—or everybody. A sense of solitude permeates these figures, even when there are more than one, though this solitude is less a declaration of loneliness than of existential reflection. Ostrau renders them in the same way she does the landscapes they inhabit, using color and value to capture their primary gesture. Her figures often cast long thin vertical shadows that bisect the landscape’s horizontal planes, further integrating body into land. 

“Though I strive to eliminate details, I also like the idea of connecting things—people to people and people with landscapes,” Ostrau explains. “In this body of work,” she continues, “there are references to manmade structures likes piers, wharfs, and other things you find on the beach. They help underline how we are part of the landscape, immersed or embedded into the natural world.” With global warming threatening the health and future of the environment, this vital harmony between ourselves and nature has become increasingly impossible to ignore. Now more than ever, it is critical to recognize that we are not only of the landscape, we are nothing without it. 

Ostrau lives and works in Palo Alto and Sea Ranch, on Sonoma County’s far northern coast, two places that deeply inform her work. Yet because of her minimalist style and streamlined imagery, it is not always possible to discern between big sky and open water, beaches and meadows, rugged cliffsides and jutting piers. The atmospheric transience of a given setting, which can be dramatically transformed by light and time of day, weather conditions such as mist and fog, and seasonal fluctuations, further eclipses attempts at identification. Her dexterous handling of her medium, which is often built up to an impasto, and her bold mark-making in the vein of Joan Brown and David Park—whose fearless gestures she praises as “leading with power”—provide the anchor around which the paintings cohere. From this stable mooring, Ostrau invites viewers to enter and develop their own narratives based on personal histories and predilections. 

Sandy Ostrau was born in New Mexico and raised in Palo Alto. She studied at the Palo Art Center and the Pacific Art League after earning her BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to exhibiting extensively across the United States, Ostrau has been the recipient of numerous awards for her painting, including from the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, and the Gualala Art Center, Gualala, CA. Crosscurrents is her first solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery.