“Working with pure watercolors on 100% rag paper offers me the challenge that dares and fascinates simultaneously. Spontaneity and freshness of the medium offers me unlimited directions in color, texture and form. Statements flow with control, and some happy accidents, creating imagery. The inspiration to experiment never ceases. For me, it happens without consciously relating to an art movement of yesterday or today. This is where I am seriously; this is what I enjoy fully.”
– Bohdan Osyczka
“Every generation of artists has its unsung talents. But few are as talented as Bohdan Osyczka. No one familiar with his work can deny that he was one of, if not the, most accomplished watercolorists of the 20th century.
If you have never heard of him it’s because he was unpretentious, not part of the greater New York art scene, and didn’t need to make a living from the art that was his passion. His daily bread came from being an award-winning illustrator, and teaching at Parsons School of Design.
But in his spare time and over the course of four decades, Osyczka worked to master the art of watercolor. Watercolor is arguably the most intractable of mediums – expert technique and control are the only ways to wrestle paper, water and colors into the image you desire. Dan spent years pouring watercolors down paper tacked to a board on the backyard stairway with the single-minded dedication to study it, tirelessly, from every angle: hue, viscosity, temperature, humidity, flow and absorption. He learned which colors repelled and which would attract, how much water was needed at any given moment, and how to maneuver the paper for the right effect. His mastery of control grew, and the years of study produced an unmatched body of knowledge.
When he had this encyclopedic knowledge of how watercolor behaved, he began to paint with the medium in a way no one had ever done before: creating abstracts, quickly produced without brushes, on a larger and larger scale. Over the course of his explorations he had specially-sized paper produced, he invented methods and tools that enabled him to pour the paint quickly and create intricate detail, and he developed a working style as one of the great action painters – moving constantly, barely needing to think because it was all instinctual.
The result of this effort is the astonishing array of works you see here. Osyczka’s watercolors are like no others. Bold, gestural, and brilliant in color, their size and mastership elevates watercolor to the status of comparable works on canvas. They are the accomplishment of a lifetime spent wrestling with watercolor, triumphing over that medium which, as he would say, “fights you, on a surface that fights you.””
– Lauren Rabb, Curator and Author
“The art of Bohdan Osyczka encompasses an ongoing and unique development of the watercolor medium that has expanded its technical, pictorial, and expressive boundaries. While embracing the essential physical qualities of watercolor, Osyczka enhances and transforms its visual potential through his use of oversized paper and his inventive process of pigment application. Abstraction, especially in large format works, has rarely been linked to watercolor. Historically, the medium was typically associated with sketching, decorative and illustrative art, or landscape imagery, and these were restrained in scale and impact by the relatively small sheets commonly used by watercolor artists. Indeed, Osyczka engaged in landscape painting at an early stage of his career. However, his approach to landscape quickly developed into free forms of watercolor notation, marked by buoyant patches of color, shapes with softly bleeding edges, and a great sense of pictorial openness and spontaneity. By the 1960’s Osyczka’s direction was established, and he set about adapting watercolor to rival other painting media in color intensity, pictorial activity and size.
Central to the artist’s technique is a work table that pivots on a universal joint. Pouring liquid pigment onto a sheet affixed to the tabletop, Osyczka manipulates the watery hues into waves, runnels, and washes. The applied color, unhindered by the limitations of brushstrokes or even the edges of the work surface, is able to spread freely, resulting in expressiveness and a literal fluidity of imagery. While this technique allows great freedom to the medium itself, Osyczka has gained mastery over the process and manages to control the flowing colors to create languorous swirls and waves, multihued puddles, bold stripes, and numerous other forms. The finished image, of course, involves an initial and essential degree of chance, but the overall composition and its elaboration through broad color areas and various forms of visual detail is very much the product of the artist’s trained eye and hand.
Obviously, the chance effects are significant as well. Chance, according to Osyczka, frees the creative process from rational thought – at least within the early stages of a work’s creation – and allows a more honest emotional response to the evolving image. Additional elements may be added by a battery of implements, including spray bottles, cups, syringes, and multiple-nozzled applicators (the latter of Osyczka’s own devising). With these tools, the artist can integrate within the general flow of the paintings a panoply of diverse effects ranging from staccato splatters to linear trails and geometric motifs. Osyczka’s continual transformation and extension of the visual qualities of watercolor forcefully transcend its stereotypically presumed boundaries. Without forsaking the delicacy and subtlety that the medium can offer, his paintings comprise a re-imagined world of watercolor, which welcomes massive shapes, forceful gestures, and powerful compositions.
Osyczka does not feel a direct connection to any specific modern art movement. He describes his work more generally as belonging to the “vernacular abstract,” although his technique is somewhat comparable to that of the Abstract expressionists. They also invented fresh ways to apply pigment and allowed their subconscious to guide their creativity. However, Osyczka credits his turn to abstract art and his ideas on the subconscious to his friend Alan Kaprow, the creator of “Happenings” – unrehearsed, or spontaneous events built around a central idea but without set narratives or development. These loosely structured, unpredictable performances are intriguing evolutionary sources for Osyczka’s parallel practice of freely applied washes of color.
Along with the theoretical and pictorial aspects of his art, Osyczka emphasizes its emotional content as well. He finds that the combination of the physical production of his paintings and their ongoing visual transformation before his eyes evokes profound emotional reactions, which in turn affect the further development of the image. He bluntly states that his “work is from the gut, from the interior.” Clearly, then, his paintings are not simply illustrated ideas or formal solutions, but complete expressions of the artist.
Osyczka’s paintings often deliver an extremely potent visual and emotional impact, perhaps surprisingly so for works in a medium traditionally considered delicate in intention and congenial for small-scale rendering. Especially in those paintings in which the dimensions reach up to seven or eight feet on a side, making them mammoths of the medium, Osyczka has enlarged the scope and ambition of watercolor painting itself. Visual comparisons to the large-scale compositions of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field paintings are entirely appropriate, placing Osyczka within the grand historical sweep of American artistic accomplishment of his era. At the same time, his work remains personal and of a piece, the vital product of an individual sensibility. Although not as yet fully appreciated by an art world that places (for no logical reason) pigments suspended in oil or plastic media above pigments suspended in water, Osyczka’s work speaks for itself – an outstanding, inventive oeuvre that can stand confidently beside the finest abstract art of its time.”
– Jeffrey Wechsler, Essayist and Curator