Lately I’ve been trying to put myself together—eating seaweed and swimming laps. But Jennie Ottinger’s paintings, up at Johansson Projects in Oakland, reminded me it’s okay to fall apart. Ottinger paints fragmented images that suggest bigger narratives. People, doe-eyed and startled, tensely touching. She paints objects infused with a human touch: empty chairs, a Superman costume, a brown station wagon hugging the curb as it travels down the street. Scenes peter out, have raw edges, are bordered by blocks of color that soothe. Imagine library-leather burgundy, flannel gray and mustard yellow.
Johansson Projects frequently shows work that is conceptual or austere; I’m remembering a show of paper sculptures and something about geography. Representative or not, it’s what I’ve come expect from the gallery. So Ottinger’s work was a surprise—it’s pure narrative, luscious and melancholy.
Imagine a girl with Anne Frank hair. Imagine wallpaper torn off a wall or an airplane wing broken in two. In some artists’ hands, such fractured images would suggest psychic or physical interruptions (think of Francis Bacon’s tormented portraits). But there’s nothing violent here. Ottinger’s paintings are sad and ephemeral, like the slow-dissolving stream of images you find when you crane your neck to look into the past.
“Ibid.,” featuring work by Jennie Ottinger, is up at Johansson Projects through September 18 at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland. Hours are noon to 6 pm, Thursday through Saturday, and by appointment.