The work of artist Kate Hooray Osmond is often based around precise lines and geometric shapes, layered into impossibly intricate patterns. Through these patterns, an interesting dichotomy occurs — and a real beauty emerges. Simple shapes become complex; the familiar becomes ethereal. In a painting called "Content," a crystalline dome has the patterns and lines of an old cobblestone walkway. A multi-panel work called "Murmurs Of Life" takes what looks like a series of bridges, roads and telephone wires and gives them a streamlined, futuristic look that's both vaguely familiar and hauntingly impersonal.
These are paintings that Osmond created in an unusual, but effective way that she's come to rely on.
"For the past couple of years, the start of my process is to tour a town and pick out some geographical places that I'd like to photograph," she says. "And then I contract a helicopter and they take me up and I view whatever area I'm interested in from the air. Then I photograph it and use those source images as the inspiration for my work."
In other words, Osmond's paintings are impressionistic versions of her view of a city from a helicopter. She takes the images and mixes them up, drawing her inspiration from the far-off perspective that her vantage point provides. Her most recent paintings in this style have been gathered together for an exhibit called Oversight at the Miller Gallery.
"Sometimes more than one image will show up in my work, or just a piece of one image," she says. "But I try to have a deep connection with wherever I'm photographing so I can capture the essence of a place. That's very important."
And Osmond makes sure not to go with the more familiar, or well-developed, parts of a city when she takes her photos.
"I've always been attracted to non-attractive areas, places that wouldn't show up on the Visitors Bureau's tourism site," she says. "I grew up in Baltimore and there were power plants, steel mills, and all these similar places shielded from highways, and they're so interesting and architecturally really beautiful."
But where does an idea like taking overhead shots from a helicopter and turning them into paintings come from? "I had a job once upon a time working out of a helicopter for a GPS company," Osmond says. "I got to see a lot of North America, and it made me realize that if I could, I'd live my entire life in the air. I think a lot of people have that wish to fly, and I feel like looking down is so much more interesting than looking up."
One of Osmond's favorite things about viewing a city from above is the juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made, often sitting back-to-back with one another.
"Typically, what I'm looking for is the relationship of the structures to their natural environments," she says. "From the air, everything seems like it belongs there. Even the paper mills and nuclear sites all seem perfectly situated. But it surprises me how close everything is relationally. You'll see a suburb with the homes starting in the $600,000's being built directly next to railroads. Everything is so close and connected to everything else, and I think that that's really interesting."
Connection is an important theme in Osmond's work, both literally and metaphorically.
"I try to think about lines as conduits or connections or strings, but I'm also thinking about the emotional landscape everyone has," she says, "and about all of our perceptions of reality. I want to portray a landscape from a removed perspective, so that you can take your time getting into it, but I'm going to add other landscapes to it that won't be as readily apparent. So, the question becomes, 'How do I chew up all of these things I'm thinking about and spit them out onto a canvas?'"
Whether or not these connections and ideas will fully connect with Osmond's potential audience is another matter. But she's fine with whatever reaction viewers may have.
"I recently completed a work at the Miller Gallery that was one painting with 15 panels," she says. "When I finished it, the audience reaction was split down the middle between being very disturbed by it and thinking it was absolutely gorgeous. Given the subject matter I choose to use, like superhighways and container ships and factories, nothing would make my heart feel better if the viewer were torn whether my pieces were beautiful and stunning or if it disturbed or jarred them in a way."