Even the materials used in Ostrowski’s work testify to a striking attempt at reduction. He uses little more than canvas, primer, emulsion, spray paint and wooden strips along with found pieces of paper, cardboard, adhesive tape or textile. His largely monochrome works are created in an artistic process that relies on both an instinctive refusal of pictorial conventions and the methodical use of coincidences and errors. Paint traces only sometimes take on a symbolic character—as a spray-painted circle of color, for example, a hint of a geometric form or a crooked smile. More recent paintings show remnants of tape with the word “fragile,” parts of the painted logo of a German hardware store or pictogram-like owl motifs that have been partially or completely painted over. A closer look at many of the paintings reveals traces of dirt, footprints, studio detritus. Some have a smooth, radiant white background. Others look like a meditation on the color red. Still others are not even primed.
Ostrowski’s minimal, gestural works abandon both the traditions of figuration and the conventions of abstraction. Their tension derives from an irreducible pictorial uncertainty. The painter consistently refuses to comply with the usual criteria for creating value in contemporary art: material value, painterly bravura, conceptual references, institutional critique, ties to intellectual discourse, or forced self-referentiality. His works thwart not only any desire for interpretation, but often even the attempt to classify or catalogue them. Many of his paintings are titled F, for instance, a letter that some commentators have interpreted to stand for “failure” or Fehlermalerei (“error painting”).
Ostrowski’s paintings occasionally recall those by later Abstract Expressionists, the scalpel works of Lucio Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, or the silkscreen graffiti paintings of Christopher Wool. But with these allusions, Ostrowski primarily addresses their failure, striking a balance between admitting the futility of any artistic endeavor and the need to continue making art nonetheless.
Paradoxically, Ostrowski’s work provokes an extraordinary perceptual experience aimed at the sublime. His paintings attest to a rigorous self-emptying, an opening-up to the emptiness of the canvas and the emptiness of the world. Operating on the borderline between apathy and seduction, they show that aesthetic experience emerges in precisely those places where preconceived attributions of meaning no longer apply. They seem to express that you can only really begin to see and understand when you actually no longer understand anything.