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John Outterbridge

American, b. 1933

Two Faces


circa 1970

Wood, metal, plastic, and paint
11.5 x 18.125 x 4.5 in. (29.21 x 46.038 x 11.43 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2016.4

John Outterbridge was born in rural North Carolina and began college there. To qualify for the GI Bill, he enlisted in the army and spent three years in Germany. He continued his education in art schools in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles in 1963.

Outterbridge’s palette arguably originates with the occupation of his father, an orphan who transformed himself into an independent mover and junk dealer, a livelihood that turned out to be the perfect training ground for a future practitioner of assemblage. Two Faces incorporates the experiences of the artist’s childhood, his training, and his practice of his craft by confronting us with a mysterious symbolism. Its three-dimensionality inhabits a territory somewhere between painting and sculpture, between collage and assemblage.

With its painterly, distressed-wood background, juxtaposed against the finished furniture fragment in the foreground, and supporting faces fashioned from miscellaneous bits, Two Faces evokes the feel of African ritual masks. The pairing of these masklike forms, utilizing meticulous methods of construction and employing an amalgam of painted wood, metal, and plastic, is the conjoining of mystery and spirit.

The mere act at that time, by an African American artist, of producing “Africanized” images was enough to brand the resultant work polemical, while white artists’ assemblage works were placed in the realm of the aesthetic. Undeterred by prevailing opinions, Outterbridge insists that this is an incomplete assessment, and that all such works by all artists are, of necessity, both. Through his commitment he has created a massive trove of powerful works during the decades since.

Greg Edwards


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