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A Fresh Spin
By Kevin Mellema
Northern Virginia Art Beat 2009

James Osher; Three Seconds With the Masters, at Addison/Ripley Fine Art (1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington D.C.). The exhibit runs through Dec. 5 and the gallery is open Tuesday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. For more details, call 202-338-5180 or visit www.addisonripleyfineart.com.

Osher has concurrent solo shows of his work at Addison/Ripley in upper Georgetown, as well as the Westmoreland Museum of American Art near Pittsburgh.

The concept at hand is fairly simple. Go into major museums, such as the National Gallery, shoot digital photos of Old Masters paintings and make art out of the resulting images.

Despite appearances, the simplicity of this series ends there. First of all, the fairly long duration exposures are combined with significant camera movements that make the shooting process an experimental endeavor. Through variations in cropping or shooting angles, Osher's diptych images come alive in a way the old masters had never considered.

The irony here is that photography is what made this type of painting obsolete in the first place. Photography took over the realistic drudgery of artists work. With the availability of quick, easy and cheap photographic portraits the tightly painted portrait became an expensive anachronism. Suddenly the Salon style was dated.

Movement entered the realm of painting, quickly advancing into Impressionism, abstraction and the like. Meanwhile, still photography itself began to move when faster film speeds allowed rapid fire successive images to be recorded.

Today's modern eyes, accustomed to moving images of all sorts, look back at centuries old paintings and find them quaint, if not outright boring. That is until Osher steps into those hallowed hallways and goes to work recycling antiquated paintings.

Osher's artist statement has a fair amount of ivory tower conceptualism to explain his work, as befits his Cal Arts M.F.A. However, what he's up to is more akin to a magic act performed right before our eager and willing eyes. On an artistic level, Osher has done the seemingly impossible: He's brought the dead back to life - with the very instrument of their initial demise.

Once you get past the genius of the idea and realize the almost unending supply of source material at his ready disposal, you come to the most tortuous question of all... why didn't I think of this?

Osher displays a level of compositional skill and maturity that's rarely seen in any artistic medium. Osher is hitting the ball hard here... really hard. Reggie Jackson smashing the lights on top of Tiger Stadium kind of hard.

James Osher

"Braid" shows a woman with questioning eyes that seem to offer a subtle suggestion. In the second image of the same painting, Osher shoots at a higher angle of attack and aggressively crops away half her face, leaving her to look at us with a side long glance as she exits the image field. In so doing, Osher's image goes from one of subtle sexual possibility to outright challenge.

Similarly, Osher's piece titled "Swing" shows a blurry image of a young girl and her suitor playfully on a swing. The left-hand image has her at the right side of the image looking at him. While the right-hand image has her near the left side of the image field with her gaze now pointed off to the right looking outside the picture frame. We imagine that her fickle youth has grown comically bored with the beau she's already conquered and now has her sight set on her next victim. All of which is accomplished with acute sensitivity to cropping and image placement. Two of the most audacious images here are "Rose" and "Rose II." Both images show a section of nude female torso holding a pinkish white rose. The first has her holding the rose down low, while the second has her holding it shoulder high.

Using the rose as a metaphor for love – as we are all inclined to do – it's as if she is accepting, or offering, but fully in control of her passions in the first image. In the second image she swoons and yields to their sway. In actuality, they are the exact same image. Osher has simply turned its presentation ninety degrees.