by Andy Brumer
(Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica) Finish artist Osmo Rauhala settles the debate between the influence of "nature or nurture" on human development. His life and work embraces and embodies both. As an organic farmer, he grows and harvests barley, rye and other crops in ecological rotation on his family farm each summer in Siuro, Finland. In the winter, he paints. Far from keeping these two "jobs" separate, Rauhala's work reveals a rich and sacred link between them.
Actually, this sense of duality graces all of Rauhala's paintings. They journey back into Finland's ancient past to retrieve timeless myths and images, just as they position themselves squarely centered among the formal challenges facing contemporary painters. While the artist in published interviews has expressed his skepticism about postmodernism, he nevertheless "borrows" and welds in his work styles and strategies from a range of sources that, even if reluctantly, places his paintings within earshot of the postmodernist debate.
Rauhala composes his oil and wax works on canvas with the sensitivity of a poet, the craft of a master carpenter, and the mystery of a magician. In a triptych titled The Space With Shifting Boundaries, the artist situates an often repeated image of a deer squarely in the middle of the central panel. The animal, painted in a flat, dark silhouette against a field of luminous gold, has turned its antlered head directly towards the viewer as if caught in his or her car's headlights on a rural highway. The image refers directly to pre-historic cave paintings of animals. It also symbolizes the frailty and resiliency of nature itself. The left panel, softly streaked with vertical lines and dark throughout, hints at a muted brightness with its romantically bilious images of clouds. The right and darker panel, this time scored with horizontal thin bands, suggests the foreboding quality of water or the soothing murkiness of soil or muddied clay. Directly beneath the deer, eight closely spaced orange rectangles stand in a row like an archetypal fire igniting and initiating the entire work into the realm of imagination.
In the diptych, First Form of the Origin, a baffling conjunction of microcosm and macrocosm pulses with a hypnotic sense of composure. The left panel in this painting contains silvery green splotches against a red-orange field, at once suggestive of biological cells and the infinite and (dare one say it) intimate idiosyncrasies of snowflakes. The deep purple, virtually black panel on the right sprouts an almost iridescent blue spiral winding its way across what might be the night sky from left to right before receding with a plunging motion back into eternity. Like all of Rauhala's work, it aches with the feeling of both something puzzlingly familiar and, like the Hale Bopp comet, something the living here on earth will never see again.