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Press & Reviews: April 2001 - Reviews - Sculpture Magazine

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Memphis, TN
Thomas Ostenberg
Lisa Kurts Gallery

Entering Thomas Ostenberg's newest exhibition is much like walking into a fantastic carnival. A man standing on horseback trumpets the arrival of his compatriot who, with outstretched arms, deftly suspends his body in midair from a pair of ropes. Another figure swings from a trapeze-like apparatus, with beautifully arched back and perfectly pointed toes. Across the room, a large figure is poised on one hand on the back of a trotting horse.

While distinctly different in scale and composition, the works all share a precarious sense of acrobatic balance. Ostenberg most often achieves this effect by stacking a variety of motifs - a man, an animal, a wheel, a tower - one on top of another. For example, in Sometimes a Great Notion, a man with hair pulled back into a ponytail balances delicately on one foot atop the back of a horse. The animal's feet are planted on a plank supported by wheels, which rest ominously at the apex of a triangular base. It feels as if at any moment the whole structure could roll either forwards or backwards, spilling both horse and rider to the ground.

In other works, such as Still Dreaming? and With a Wing and a Prayer, the human figure relies only on itself. In both works, a graceful elegant figure is suspended within a large ring. Tension abounds, since it is apparent that the figures' own strength and balance must keep them from crashing to the ground.

Ostenberg readily admits that his work is autobiographical. Once a vice-president for Citibank working in New York, Spain and Brazil, he chose to forego his lucrative career to become an artist. After six years of undergraduate and graduate study, Ostenberg now makes a living as a sculptor in London and the south of France. His ongoing quest to achieve a sense of balance in his life and the joy he has discovered in making sculpture are readily apparent in the work.

While his figures may seem weightless, they are in fact solid, heavy works of cast bronze finished with varying densities of green patina. Made in the traditional lost wax process, the surface texture of the figures often reflects the hand-modeled maquette (in wax, clay or plaster) that precedes the finished product. Sometimes the artist's own fingerprints are visible. In other instances, Ostenberg has covered the surface with a cross-hatching pattern. The effect created by the texturing enhances the works' physical presence and accentuates the lack of distinctive detail in the human and animal forms. His seemingly androgynous yet well-proportioned figures rely instead on accentuated gestures to define their individuality and to display their emotions.

The sculptures represented in the exhibition range from a six-foot-tall bronze on the front lawn to small wall mounted pieces of not more than 11 inches. The most successful works are the ones that lie between, whether resting on a pedestal or on a cast base of the artist's own device. In one of the latter, the materials used to construct the base- wood, screws, fabric tape- were left in their natural state during the casting process. Their raw condition proves an elegant contrast to the smoothly modeled horse and figure they support.

Playful, elegant, graceful- these are not words often used to describe contemporary sculpture. Ostenberg has deftly created a body of work that is strong and serious, yet at the same time uplifting and fun.

— Rebecca Dimling-Cochran

© Copyright 2005 - 2017, Thomas Ostenberg
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