Sunday, November 11, 2018

The power of soft resists

Paloma Boyewa-Osborne, untitled chemigram, 2018

Paloma Boyewa-Osborne lives in the Morningside Heights area of Harlem.  She has been painting and drawing since age 3, although none of that work has come down to us.  Her family introduced her to the chemical darkroom a couple of years ago and today, at the advanced age of eleven, she knows her way around it with disarming confidence.  Last week she participated in a chemigram workshop at the International Center of Photography in New York and produced a group of works in soft resists that caught our attention and then some.

A cautionary note: in sharing these, we implicitly reject the antediluvian notion that success in abstract cameraless photography (or of any art) must be linked to physical maturity, which so often is unstated and assumed.  It doesn't.  Paloma is living proof if you needed any, and we won't say anything further about it.  Let's look at what she did, and then let's discover what we can learn from her.

Paloma Boyewa-Osborne, untitled chemigram, 2018

To my eye, the first thing I'm impressed with is her assertive use of space: filling but not crowding it, respecting its margins but not afraid of them.  Too often, if I can speak for the rest of us, we pull back when we arrive at the end of our paper, unsure of how to handle it, or we're embarrassed by it, or we go into a funk.  We truncate, we turn around, we say goodbye.  Paloma never does, or so it seems.

Related to this is her wonderful, unforced sense of composition, of putting things where they absolutely belong.  Haven't we all had moments when, on reflection, our picture would be great if only it were cut off here, or if that part were placed over there?  But the dynamic of the chemigram is one-way and hurtles us in the forward direction only.  You can't erase, you have to live with what you get.  Paloma rides this dynamic with no apparent stress whatsoever.

Paloma Boyewa-Osborne, untitled chemigram, 2018

Paloma Boyewa-Osborne, untitled chemigram, 2018

She is of those who appear to favor the chaos of soft resists, which are so difficult to tame but so rewarding in the end, to the rigor of the knife and of hard resists.  She is well-suited to it, that much is clear.  The soft resist in chemigrams has always been the poor cousin of the hard, and in our workshops often tends to be passed over with little more than tolerance and good humor.  But Paloma, by her example and the tiny corpus of work produced thus far, goes a fair distance to correct this imbalance.  She should be taken seriously, her work should be taken seriously.  Let us hope there will be a lot more of it.

The young artist at the trays.

I asked her what her favorite soft resists were.  Marshmallow fluff and peanut butter, she replied.  Oh, and canola oil cooking spray, but then we ran out of it.  I would have laughed at this a year ago, but no more.  She has taught me something.

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