In 1997 Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounted a survey exhibition of my drawings on paper done over the past 20 years. The late Bruce Davies Curator of Prints and Drawings curated the show. At this point in time drawing on paper was only a part of my graphic output. I had a body of works drawn by carving into wood on a larger format up to 48” X 96”. We opted to select only drawings on paper for the exhibition. The show had a great sense of continuity focusing on my unique style of representing the creative process within my studio. Bruce was tireless in reviewing all my drawing in my studio and in private collections. The late Director of Conservation Victoria Blythe Hill did some conservation and supervised framing. Tragically this was Bruce Davies last exhibition as he died soon after the exhibition opened. LACMA has three of my drawing in their collection dedicated to the memory of Bruce Davis. Here is Bruce’s essay for the exhibition titled, “Richard Oginz, Drawings From a Sculptor’s Point of View”.
This exhibition surveys the drawings loaded with astringent visual wit by sculptor Richard Oginz (b. 1944). At the beginning of his career he made only sculpture. But while living in London in the early 1970s he began to draw at home when it was too cold to work in his unheated studio. He employed the most basic materials of pen and pencil on paper as a kind of vacation from the technical challenges of sculpture. He moved to Los Angeles after eight years in England. Originally from the east coast, he chose Los Angeles so that he could be close to the Watts Towers and contribute to a city he had come to think of as “devoted to individual expression and fantasy”.
Oginz’ first work in Los Angeles was the drawing series WARMING UP (1976). Over the course of three decades he has lived and worked in a variety of locales in Los Angeles, beginning downtown, and currently lives in Topanga Canyon. Oginz records images of Los Angeles and his different studio environments in imaginative, frequently humorous, and sometimes unexpected and startling ways.
Closely related but tangential to his three-dimensional constructions, these highly focused and meticulously drawn works are executed in pure line with pencil or pen and ink and without modeling or shading; tone is created through tightly packed linear passages that sometimes give the appearance of washes. The drawings are often simultaneously interior and exterior vistas, particularly the compositions depicting the artist’s different studios, such as the WARMING UP series, the BRAODWAY series, and the OBSCURE WINDOW series; by literally opening up his studios, he invites the viewer to become a sort of voyeur, peering out the windows of his studio into the windows of adjacent spaces where a whole other level of narrative is unfolding. This layering of points of view (with views from window into window) makes the works especially provocative, inviting, and funny, such as the discovery of the ardent couple in the elevator in BONIVENTURE HOTEL or the woman nursing a cow in BROADWAY – PROPOSITION 13.
This layering of views also provides Oginz with a vehicle for complex narrations in which chaos often erupts. Aquariums overturn spilling fish which squirm on the floor, earthquakes shatter windows and split buildings, and storefronts burst into flames as looters emerge. Oginz manipulates scale through surprising juxtapositions of objects that may be either miniature or gigantic, such as the isolated figure of a nude woman reclining on an immense bench in the middle of PERSHING SQUARE. This approach parallels explorations he began making in sculptural works in the early 1970s, as seen in the sculpture in LACMA’s permanent collection on view on the second level of the Anderson Building, in which Oginz introduces a visual piquant and suggestive special relationship between the sculpted head and it’s surrounding wooden armature.
Perspective is also distorted in many drawings, as Oginz creates an unusual viewpoint by tipping a room or space up so the viewer can better see the top, front, and side of all the objects and spaces. That is, he does not employ traditional Western one-or two-point perspective in which parallel lines appear to converge in the distance, but rather a Japanese approach to space in which parallel lines remain parallel, as in the rendition of the rolling table/sculpture in BROADWAY-EARTHQUAKE. Oginz’ appreciation of Japanese graphic art, especially Ukiyo-e prints, is evidenced in HARUNOBU WALL and UTAMARO WALL in which the viewer sees a print lying on a worktable in the foreground and the construction of a mural wall behind it. This non-Western perspective combined with his determinedly linear draftsmanship gives his drawings a dramatic but understated visual tension and enables the spectator to “see and feel the physicality of space and object more than allowable in conventional renditions”. Oginz further explains, “As a builder of things, it’s more important to depict what I know to be true than to depict what I see”.
Despite their realistic appearance, the drawings are the results of the artist’s testing of his imagination. Oginz finds most exciting the physical act of making sculptures, and drawings represent the sites where this activity occurs, but not in a strictly documentary sense. These spaces are metaphors for the ideas in his head. The studios are replete with sculpture he would like to make, projects he would like to undertake, and so on. For example, the sculpture depicted in BROADWAY – DRAWING SHIP is one he would have liked to make in this scale, but never did. The African sculpture displayed in IF WE SOLD OUR HOUSE TO ERNIE WOLFE or the Anasazi pottery in ESPINOLA are collections that Oginz wants but does not own. Oginz says, “Drawing is an act of visualizing desire.”
- Bruce Davis Curator of Prints and Drawings, LACMA