San Francisco

Through Windows, Through Walls: Driss Ouadahi at Hosfelt Gallery

Driss Ouadahi, Grand ensemble 1, 2012 / Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 118 1/8 inches

Painting has long offered codes for interpreting landscape, and from it a perspective on our place in the world. Claude Monet’s series of haystacks, bridges and the Rouen cathedral give us landscape as a clock, an unfolding of the hours of the day and time spent looking, comparing, recording and looking again. Monet had the luck to be surrounded by gardens and fields, but how do we see the hours of our lives from the window of a high rise, or from the street alongside a surging construction site? Driss Ouadahi works through claustrophobic views of anonymous modern cityscapes, mapping the variations, real and imagined, in the landscape of urbanism in Trans-Location, currently on view at Hosfelt Gallery.

Originally trained as an architect, Ouadahi seems keenly aware of the failures of modernist urban planning, while also open to the intoxication of the endless grids and semi-abstract vistas to be found in massive apartment blocks. That ambivalence, as his sterile-feeling plots mutate into lush color and disorienting perspective, lends a human and subjective note to large paintings where traces of the human figure are conspicuously absent.

Driss Ouadahi, Breakthrough, 2012 / Oil on canvas 78 3/4 x 141 3/4 inches (diptych)

Ouadahi’s handling of light and shade is understated but becomes disorienting; light sources on gridded overlays shift in his large street scenes. The grids could indicate scaffolding, construction, ruins or sleek, finished façades. These gridded paintings are more exciting when palette is broader; there’s a joy in complexity and multiplicity that balances the sense of urban overload and numbness in the more muted work.

As in all cities, green space is sanctuary. In Oudahi’s street scenes, brushy lumps indicating plants, rubbish and untidy medians are a relief from grids and the linear brushwork. Finally a repeated playground theme lends a sense of emptiness. No people or cars are visible anywhere. Playgrounds are the only human-scale element as other features –roads, streets, stairs — could be big or small, abstract or representative.

Interspersed with the cityscapes are several deceptively simple paintings of chain link fences against smoggy cloud cover. They are simple, elegant, gorgeously done. They could almost be taken for photos from a distance, which makes the brushwork more enchanting on close inspection, where the care and lightness given to such brutal material as chain-link is revealed.

Driss Ouadahi, Le Green Returns, 2011 / Oil on canvas 74 3/4 x 94 1/2 inches

In gallery literature, Trans-Location introduces two definitions of the prefix “trans,” across and through. Oudahi plays on the nuances of the secondary definition, stationed in one anonymous city or another, looking in and out, through windows, through bars and through the day into night.

Trans-Location is on view at Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco now through March 23, 2013, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am -6pm.