Joost van Oss
Almost the first I saw of Joost Van Oss, which was before I saw his work, he was looking at a scorpion in a clear glass jar. Joost had caught the scorpion in his hut at the Chinati Foundation, where he was artist in residence. The foundation occupies a former army camp. It is on the outskirts of Marfa, a small cow town in West Texas, and it is surrounded by the Chihuahua desert, which isn't one of those sublimely undulent National Geographic deserts, but rough yellow-grey scrubland, thick with prickly pear cactus and the sort of grass that can cut the skin. Antelope bounce around. Its austere beauty grabs you, though. You can see why Donald Judd would set up the Chinati Foundation there. It's a good place to make strong art.
When I did finally see Joost's pieces they were on the wall of his hut, meticulously positioned on nails. They were oblongs, about seven inches wide and nine inches tall, of plywood, a material he had chosen "as a tribute to Judd and because it is cheaper than linen." It's a material that properly handled has the dignity of bone. Joost was working with very simple geometric shapes in black and arterial blood red and (to a lesser extent) in white. They held the wall and the eye. Momentarily, they had looked quite small, but then the proportions had settled, and they weren't small at all, just the right size.
It seemed remarkable to me that as we chug through our century, our putrescent wake bobbing with so much servile academic abstractio that a painter like Joost can still make such pure and powerful work. Actually, it seems remarkable to me still.
At about the end of my time at Chinati Joost and I went out for a few beers in Lucy's Tavern, one of Marfa's few bars. I had been honing up some serious questions, about painting after the supposed death of painting, and so forth, but we just played pool. Joost beat my arse. I returned to New York and Joost returned to his studio. Joost Van Oss was, I think, the last artist in residence chosen by Donald Judd before his death. A good choice too.
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