Some call it a melting pot, but lately the U.S. feels more like a petri dish. Sherwin Ovid’s paintings presented at Goldfinch resembles one as well. In his first and untitled solo exhibition, Ovid focuses on immigration, assimilation, and resistance. Goldfinch is the brainchild of Claudine Isé, a writer, curator, and educator who also serves as the director of Riverside Art Center’s Freeark Gallery. As Goldfinch’s first show, Ovid’s hyper-personal, richly emotive, and delightfully experimental exhibition is an inspired launching point. Rather than relying on pictorial narratives, he creates abstracted forms with unusual materials, their interactions representing the tensions of cross-cultural chemistry.
Syrupy materials like silicone and silver nitrate ooze and bubble as they coalesce on cellophane, glass, paper, and canvas. Their visual effect mimics the interaction of oil and water — not dissolving into one another but swirling into new forms. The fascinating mingling of materials loosely forms two big portraits in the show. The large scale heads, with weathered skin and friendly eyes, appear to simultaneously congeal and disintegrate. The figures’ relationship to the artist isn’t made clear while the intensely layered surfaces imply a complex set of histories. Other works, most notably Spitshine Heirloom, use domestic cues like antique silver cutlery floating in the painting to reference old money style class aspirations. The golden ornamentation in the faux gold leafed lion’s mane of beard and dreadlocks on the portraits, calls to mind wealth and power. Slivers of kitschy silver holographic paper peek out from beneath pools of marbleized enamel paint, sensually puddling and shining with an eternally wet look.
Born in Trinidad, Ovid’s statements position the work within processes identity formation and assimilation. Trinidad is an English-speaking country with a long colonial history mostly under the UK, but it’s also rooted in African, Asian and Spanish culture as well. Coming from such a rich Caribbean culture to Houston and later Chicago, Ovid brings an inner complexity he describes as born out of the realities of living here, now, as an immigrant of color. In the artist’s words, provided in the press release:
“A transnational vernacular is reflected in the paintings’ paradoxical display of inherited colonial histories and the cultural memory of black resistance. Applying a spectrum of transparent materials to dark grounds poses questions on the nuances of visibility and its operative reliance on and distinction within blackness.”
Often working on white paper that’s entirely spray-painted black, Ovid creates a context for the abstract forms puddled upon it, the ground’s eggshell sheen made richer and darker under the clear enamels. In Us, soap, glue, liquid rubber and marble dust bubble forth from a deep, spacious blackness, speckled with white like a starry sky, forming the word “mass.”
The aesthetic references point toward the past and the future. He blows through straws to create a misting and bubbling effect with the paint, similar to the techniques used by the earliest cave painters. The decadence of the Trinidadian Carnival is reflected in the shimmering surfaces and the maximalist bricolage. Above all the paintings are organic, often incorporating dirt and saliva, the forms appearing to have grown on the canvases rather than being deliberately executed. The ambiguity of the images as contextualized by Ovid places the work in the contemporary, conceptual art discourse, but the work can be appreciated on any level, thanks to its rich materiality. It comes off as effortless and organic on the one hand but deeply intentional and symbolic on the other.
Sherwin Ovid’s solo exhibition is on view at Goldfinch until October 29, 2016.