Zak Ostrowski’s latest exhibit reveals worlds within worlds

Dawn-Michelle Baude

In Pyroclasm, Zak Ostrowski’s expertise in architecture and craftsmanship finds a common denominator in shou-sugi-ban, the traditional Japanese technique of burning the surface of wood planks to seal them against decay. For the Japanese craftsman, the charred surface was incidental; the goal was to make long-lasting wood. For the Vegas-based Ostrowski, the goal is texture.

Intent looms large in the exhibition, as it does whenever craft technique is “framed” as art. Ostrowski uses a blowtorch on planks of pine and oak, fractaling the surface into a charred mosaic. He then applies paint to emphasize organic patterns in the wood grain, creating small- to medium-size shou-sugi-ban wall pieces. Each composition seems puzzled together into a hermetic skin.

The Details

By Zak Ostrowski
Through May 19, Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m., free
Brett Wesley Gallery, 433-4433
Three stars

In the strongest work, Ostrowski’s shou-sugi-ban recall Chinese gongshi, or Japanese suiseki—rocks revered because their shapes or surfaces depict the natural world in miniature (think mountainscape in a marble pebble). Ostrowski’s shou-sugi-ban reveal worlds within worlds, often featuring painted elements abstracted from nature, from the Higgs boson to supernovae. In “Blast Wave,” for example, the contrast between high-intensity colors and unpainted charred wood grain seemingly resolves into a pixelated Asian landscape, complete with the flattened perspective characteristic of Japanese wood-block prints or silk embroidery.

The nested-world theme is also apparent in the numerous circular shou-sugi-ban in the show. Perfectly round works are ready signs for a range of “circular” interpretations, including portals, microscopes and eyes. For example, in “Skyrocket Remnants Number 2” the viewer is positioned in front of a telescope, peering into deep space, with color patterns as dramatically insistent as some NASA photos. In “Red Matter Number 1,” the palette is somber and muted, the composition suggesting a planetary topography or low-relief globe flattened into a craggy 2D plane.

But overallPyroclasm fails to wholly convince, because craft, no matter how flawlessly executed and exhibited, is deprived of the resonance, complexity and messiness of fine art. Despite their appealing texture, Ostrowski’s works can’t quite shuck the defining pragmatism that accompanies both the shou-sugi-ban and the artist’s approach to art-making. In this sense, Ostrowski’s success in design, architecture and interiors is tough to overcome.


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