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Vitreous Enamel on Copper

For nearly ten years sculptor, Alan Osborne, has been investigating the artistic use of vitreous enamels creating an ambitious body of work that runs parallel to his large metal sculpture. His towering sculptures retain a direct link to his intimate studio enamel explorations on copper plates, sheets of bronze often define his arcing forms. While his sculptural practice remains central to this experienced artist whose additional interests include printmaking, Alan Osborne has integrated more fully his artistic productivity with his drive for colored and heated glass on metal. Today, as his artwork attains assuredness and success, both forms take precedent as he pursues these two directions simultaneously.


Alan Osborne has been experimenting with enamel’s artistic scope since 2007 and has come to the arena that rewards him most; the resolution of enamel with his bronze sculpture in his current body of work. Since 2009, the focus of Osborne’s artwork has been to further develop his prowess with enamels, melding them into his evolving bronze sculpture - an artistic area where little precedent exists - particularly with large-scale sculpture. These developments occurred in Osborne’s studio located in the heart of the city of Sacramento, CA where the bronze foundry that Osborne established fifteen years ago still actively produces his work and that of select others. Near there in a low-lying but historic brick building is Osborne’s enameling studio which contains a minimum of four enamel kilns ranging in size, large tables covered with work in various stages of completion, some sculpting wax related to his three-dimensional bronze practice, and containers of ground enamel glass (powdered frit) that, when heated, transform into expressionist color on copper plates. On a large wall at the far end of the studio hang many of Osborne’s enamel paintings that reveal through studied observation the evolution of his artistic development of enamel paintings. Most of these metallic canvases measure 18 x 20” in size with smaller pieces also used. Some are layered with partial copper fragments which are fused to the larger main plate. Many of them reflect Osborne’s direct post-firing technique of scrumming, scrapping, or smearing the soft but still hot enamel in much the same way a print maker moves ink across an engraved plate. This process documents the artists’ mark-making, and reverberates with much of Alan Osborne’s work where gesture is central to his oeuvre.


Similar to fused glass in terms of technology and process, enamels don’t require large heat-generating furnaces or kilns. Smaller ovens, where controlled and quick melting occurs, are best suited for this process. Melted powdery ground enamel forms hot molten glass and requires little time (anywhere between two to four minutes) with temperatures ranging from 1350 degrees – to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit. The immediacy of this process is well suited to Alan Osborne’s directness and spontaneity. While considered a “fire-art” in process and somewhat similar to glazing ceramics, the expressionist enamels of Alan Osborne attain a light reflective quality that, in the hands of this experienced practitioner elicits poetic results in their evocation of stained glass. It is here where Alan Osborne makes his colorful, light reflective enamel paintings that are frequently incorporated into site-specific public and private commissions.


NEW WORK: Painterly Enamels Beyond the Studio
For every artwork displayed by an artist, there is an unrecognized amount of effort that occurs in the studio. For Alan Osborne, the accomplished publically viewed pieces evolve from hours, days, months, and sometimes years of art practice where new ideas and building materials lend themselves to experimentation and redress. This has been Alan Osborne’s reality for the past three years as he further explored the enamel-painting medium. His inquiry continues with the heat build up and reduction of enamel on the metal surface while he also challenges the scale and formation of the medium ever pushing for larger more visually impactful work. Some works reveal a thick and drippy use of the material, while others illustrate his approach of reducing the hot enamel, creating hardened expressionistic paintings. Engraved linear figuration has also appeared in select small-scale pieces to be reformed into large-scale ethereal relief.


Retaining the successful format of enamel on copper plates while increasing in size to 30 x 30” three distinct bodies of work have evolved: the Veil Series and the NightWork Series where Osborne engages his colorist interest, and Light on the Water Series where the copper surface of multiple plates is less coated and more visible resulting in a lyrical private commission. The Veil Series specifically embodies a minimalist presentation of animated color on white ground, and often includes a smaller rectangular enameled white plate melded onto the surface surrounded by select colored marks. These approximately twelve works feature the artist’s periodic contemplative nature. His relish in surface embellishments, however, is evident for we see the thick use of enamel, select but rich color application, with the beginning of the desired technique of enamel burn-through, revealing green hues of copper and small sections of enamel reduction where the material, after firing, has been manually pushed away. The Veil Series purely celebrates the reflective quality of enamel paintings of this intimate scale.


Whereas the Veil Series explores the impact of thickly-coated, extensive white ground with select but lively color passages, the NightWork Series, with its abundance of mostly blue but sometimes black color spotted with red, changes the artists’ mood entirely creating a grouping whose mysterious premise is conveyed through darkness and at times smaller copper fragment additions. Here, Alan Osborne’s enamels take a related though distinctly different artistic direction. Creating depth both through enamel build-up and layering copper fragments allude to Osborne’s ever-present sculptural concerns while probing a swell of deeper meaning through the much darker palette. What develops from this richness in the work is a luminescence similar to stained glass. While Osborne’s use of enamels here is not transparent, the enamel’s capacity to reflect light and pulse color intensity as light travels across the surface creates a spirited glow to the work. The preferred colors of red, blue and green in the NightWork Series bring to mind medieval art glass, and tap into an ethos that Osborne himself says exists. Created as quiet moments of introspection the NightWork Series especially and the Veil Series to some extent address an internal message for the artist.