For Thomas Ostenberg the transition from the world of finance to the world of art has deeply philosophical underpinnings, and is best described in his own words, taken from the artist’s statement:
“My sculpture is somewhat autobiographical. I left a successful financial career to pursue the creation of art when I became disillusioned with the purposelessness of accumulation. I discovered that thought, when acted upon, is transformative and very powerful. In my search for equilibrium in precarious situations (be they emotional or economical), a moment of significant radical insight, brought about—not by a modification in material circumstances—but by a simple change in thought and the way those circumstances were perceived, revolutionized my life.”
“I feel it is essential to try to awaken a sense of joy in those who view my work by making what I hope are beautiful objects. In this way the work may contribute to improving someone’s existence, even if only fleetingly.”
Born in Nebraska, USA, Ostenberg worked as an international financial consultant in New York, then Brazil and Spain, and was the Vice President of Corporate Banking in those two countries. In the 90s, he embarked on art studies, ultimately completing a MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London, UK.
The choice of the medium, and material—cast bronze—is audacious, and astute for an artist eager to reach out to the general public. The tactile aspect of sculpture, and the reassuring, ancient medium of bronze, makes his works instantly accessible to all. As does his subject matter.
“The first thing that strikes one about Thomas Ostenberg’s sculptures is that they are so joyful…” writes critic Edward Lucie-Smith. “Ostenberg’s animals (usually but not always horses) and his human personages have an exuberance which immediately lifts the spectator’s own spirits.”
Most of his works, other than the large public sculptures, are of small to medium format, making them even more approachable. With titles like Dreamer, In Search of Myself, but, I Feel Fine, they carry a clear personal message and involve the spectator in an instant dialogue with the piece, and by extension, with oneself.
At times deceptively simple in their composition, at other quite complex, they alter space and dimensions, confounding the viewer with a visual enigma.
After the Millennium is a layered sculpture involving a slanting column with a leaping Pegasus and rider, reaching for a twin-engine plane hovering above them. Incongruous combination, but oh so delightfully playful, and endlessly intriguing.
In Search of Harmony offers a different compositional duality; with echoes of antiquity, it features a horse balancing on an orb, with a human figure in an equally precarious stance on its back. Placed on a rough rectangular pedestal, and framed against a large disc, it is a complex composition, creating an unexpected tension between the smooth, stylized figures of the man and animal, and the oversized, textured geometric forms.
The stacking of figures and shapes is particularly unusual in O Dream Sing for Joyful Waking, a multi-layered pyramid with a cushion at its base, a piece of fabric, a canoe, a horse and atop of it a prancing human figure… all of course in bronze.
Several of his sculptures go beyond the straightforward simplicity of one object atop another as in O Caçador de Sonhos I, II and III, where the composition is divided into two distinct visual interpretations, with a cage above a four-legged base. Each space is occupied by an assortment of forms, with a horse as the central figure at the base, accompanied by smaller figures of animals and people as if floating around it. The upper structure presents a colourful gathering behind its sparse bars, of tiny figures in a variety of activities, from swinging on a swing suspended near its top, to engaging in dance-like movements at the bottom.
These works encapsulate an entire, fascinating universe, resembling a child’s toy, yet executed with an assured mastery of an artist in total control of his medium, and imagination.
Ostenberg’s large sculptures echo his smaller works, but the size dramatically changes their interpretation and presence. At 279.4 x 132 x 81.2 cm, but, I Feel Fine, is a solid composition, not only in the perfectly balanced combination of four diverse forms, but also in the very texture and mass of the material.
With intentional departure from new art expression, Ostenberg is presenting works of the highest calibre, relying on tradition as much as on a personal sense of what art should be, and of its role in our modern society, while remaining solidly in the realm of the contemporary. Now that is yin and yang.