American West

Two one-person exhibitions at Eugene Binder

MARFA , Texas. – The opening reception for artists Erika Osborne and Mark Cole will take place on Friday evening, October 5, from 9 to 11 p.m. Both artists’ work explores the American West, but from very different points of view.

Erika Osborne’s paintings, from her new series Re- Manifesting Destiny, have as their subject the contemporary legacy left by the westward expansion of the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The predominantly large-format paintings are extraordinary observations of natural and man-made geological phenomena. For example, Chasm at Bingham depicts the world’s largest strip mine, as well as, according to Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation, the world’s largest man-made excavation. In the foreground of this work, Osborne has painted the remnant of a once idyllic Northwest forest meadow now overshadowed by the gigantic proportions of a strip mine, which has displaced millions of tons of earth since it began operations in 1906. Osborne’s Looking for Moran portrays similar disparities of scale: the subject is the Grand Canyon at dusk, with a turgid sky and shafts of golden light breaking through the overcast atmosphere created by cloud cover, highlighting areas of rock formations in the immense canyon as well as several tour buses parked near a precipice in the foreground. In each of Osborne’s paintings there is an uneasy, almost eerie and disquieting, relationship between nature and the overpowering evidence of human presence. That Osborne skillfully and knowingly paints in the manner of her nineteenth-century predecessors such as Thomas Moran and Frederick Church, capturing the American West when it was comparatively unspoiled, heightens the disturbing mood of her work, highlighting the tension between the vistas’  undeniable beauty and the disruptive, sometimes violent, processes that produced them.

Where Osborne draws on the visual vocabulary of nineteenth-century landscape painters, Mark Coleemploys clichéd, iconographic images that look as though they have been faxed from faded postcards and reconstituted on canvas via silkscreen or drawing, though they are in fact painted. The sense of isolation in the paintings is reminiscent of walking down a lonely two-lane highway in Texas (where the artist was born) with nothing to focus on other than the vegetation growing near the cracking edges of the pavement and the detritus tossed from the occasional passing car. But there is also an element of comic abstraction in the world Cole depicts. In the vast undefined emptiness we can easily imagine a character, down on his luck, inhabiting this barren non-landscape, presumably walking slowly from an unknown beginning point to an unknown destination. The abstract Western imagery would be suited to the set for a production of Waiting for Godot, where very little, if anything, happens but there is a vague, perhaps imagined sense of time and place (whether this is actually there or not is yet another unknown). Because of the work’s indeterminate spatial, metaphorical, and perhaps metaphysical connotations—or its lack thereof—Cole’s paintings and works on paper take on a Zen-like quality, slowing or completely stopping time in an identifiable yet unidentifiable realm, with the aid of painfully meager clues that make no attempt to be greater than the sum of their stark elements. Stalled by the artist with a stoppage of imagery and time, between Pop, Minimalism, and abstraction, the paintings take on the characteristics of all these approaches, while capitulating to none. These oddly quirky works force the viewer to join that unseen character, who will most likely never actually appear in any of the paintings, on a timeless journey that starts from the point of looking at the paintings and moves toward an unknown destination of interpretation—or not.

The exhibitions are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during Chinati Weekend from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and by appointment. For further information please call 432.729.3900 or e-mail

MARK COLE, Holiday (installation view)

MARK COLE, Holiday (installation view)

ERIKA OSBORNE, Chasm (installation view)