Unveiling Layers of Color at a Pair of Exhibitions for a Philadelphia Painter

The Philadelphia-based artist Elizabeth Osborne has been building up a body of work for nearly six decades. This fall, two exhibitions pay homage to her unusual painterly style.

  • Installation view of Elizabeth Osborne at Locks Gallery, Philadelphia. Courtesy Locks Gallery and the artist

The first, “Inside / Out,” was recently on view at at Locks Gallery in Philadelphia; the second, “Veils of Color: Juxtapositions and Recent Work by Elizabeth Osborne” is currently on display at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, a charming town known for its thriving arts scene, around 25 miles north of Philadelphia in Bucks County. Although each venue chose to focus on different selections of Osborne’s oeuvre, the two exhibitions both reveal the accomplished artist’s lively use of color in both abstract and figurative painting and her ability to excel in both formats.

Both shows demonstrate Osborne’s affinity for geometry, be it in a colorful composition made up of strokes and swathes of layered color, or a composition centered around a bookshelf, filled with a technicolor collection of tomes represented by individual brushstrokes. In Nightfall (2013), from the Locks Gallery show, for example, a pink ground is covered with a black wash applied with careful brushwork and brightly hued blocks and stripes of color. Cathedral (2013), in the Michener show, poses a similar approach, but with an electric blue color palette. Osborne’s experimentations with figuration bring to mind the portraits of Alex Katz and the expressive color of Henri Matisse, but with a softness that seems entirely her own. Her carefully controlled washes of translucent color add a dreamy dimension to works like Audrey Seated (2014),  at the Michener, and Portrait of JL (2015) at Locks. Often, her imagery recalls fading memories that remain vivid in one way or another.

“She walks a tightrope—as she has described it—between representation and abstraction,” Michener Art Museum curator Kirsten M. Jensen has said of the artist. And she’s been working this way for most of her artistic life. In early landscape paintings made in the 1960s and ‘70s, Osborne started depicting nature with her a bold, intense color palette, striking a balance between abstraction and representation through gauzy yet distinct brushwork. Osborne has explained that she finds the abstractions more difficult to make: “you're not really looking at anything, it's just all coming out of your head or your memory.” It’s an observation that leaves the viewer curious about the artist’s life and experiences on the eve of her 70th birthday. Perhaps we all dream in color—but Osborne’s hues are particularly vivid.

Bridget Gleeson

Inside / Out” was on view at Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, Aug. 7–Sep. 26, 2015.

“Veils of Color: Juxtapositions and Recent Work by Elizabeth Osborne” is on view at the Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jul. 25–Nov. 15, 2015.

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