The materials that John Outterbridge uses in his assemblages couldn’t be more humble: bits of hair, scraps of wood, old rags, what appears to be a remnant of an old pizza paddle. But the artist, who is known for his alchemical mixes of materials, has a way of transforming the scraps of everyday life into something that is greater than the sum of its parts — abstracted sculptures, surreal tools and totemic figures.
A solo exhibition of Outterbridge’s work at Art + Practice in Leimert Park, now in its last two days, gathers some of the artist’s better known works. This includes sculptures such as “Jive Ass Bird” from the early ‘70s, with its abstracted American flag face — political imagery rendered out of old canvas and belts.
It also includes numerous other works, many of them crafted over the last 15 years. “Remnants of an Apron Lost,” from 2002, transforms a wooden paddle into an African-inspired fetish figure — one studded with clipped pieces of dreadlocked hair. A piece called “Hooked,” from 2009, turns bits of wood into a dangerous-looking claw.
In a rear gallery, a black rag doll appears trapped between a cage and the weighty presence of an American flag, which, bound to her ankle, appears to be dragging her down.
“I don’t think art is any special thing,” the longtime Los Angeles artist told an oral historian for the Archives of American Art in the early 1970s. Yet, in his hands, the mundane takes on a cast of something special — and often, quite charged.
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