My earliest recollections of Bob Osborne go back to the autumn of 1972 when we were both first year students at the University of East Anglia. A sandy haired beach boy in a donkey jacket who arrived in Norfolk after exploits in the contrasting arenas of building sites and European travels, Osborne seemed to have a point to prove. From the outset he was always an independent, even rebellious spirit, and his déclassé stance was real for he hailed from gypsy street traders and the rough end of West London Bohemia.

We went our separate ways as students but, 30 years later, made re-acquaintance in St Ives, where his dream of a Dionysian, creative and hedonistic accord by the sea found fulfilment. Although he came to art late-though not as belatedly as Alfred Wallis-there is something personal, endemic and natural in his chosen modus operandi. After all, as a child he went out on a horse and cart and witnessed his father, a scrap metal dealer, turn discarded junk into a source of livelihood. The random excitement of finding objects stayed with him providing a formative and motivational factor in his scouring of London skips and Cornish harbours and beaches. From these humble materials he fashions collages and wall-bound relief constructions. Beachcombing and the poetic retrieval of rough and weathered objets trouvés -driftwood, metal, cork and netting- bridged the gap between art and life. A natural extension of his lifestyle, Osborne’s art making links raw and instinctive processes with an intellectually informed sensibility. Since 1998 his boxed or free-hanging compositions have developed from nostalgic or literary juxtapositions into purely formal arrangements, whose shape, colour and texture embodies poignant association with obsolescence, redundancy and a salutary, if sad beauty.

A former literature and creative writing student who-not bad for an aspiring poet-knew Robert Graves in Mallorca, he developed his art along inevitable plastic and architectonic lines once he began working in St Ives. Time as well as place exerts their hold on Osborne’s work. His reliefs function as self-imposed diaries of a given day, each excursion `chronicled` in terms of a captured spontaneity and subject to only minor adjustments in the studio. Osborne knowingly strikes a compromise between the concrete and lyrical qualities of St Ives modernism.  But his beachside and maritime constructions introduce an unruly note to the ordered purity of St Ives constructivism.  Whilst assisting in the studios of his close friends Sandra Blow and Denis Bowen, Osborne has learnt directly from inspirational sources.Osborne never uses scale gratuitously, enjoying the challenge of restricted ramshackle working spaces. The improvisational nature of the Cornish imagination is reflected in the art of this schooled primitive whose work also extends to printmaking. The simple but eye-catching litho print Waves (2001) is an emblem of the flux of sea and sand enshrined in the static clarity of memory. Memory and the distance of time are held in check by a sensual delight in the direct and physical manipulation of materials.


Peter Davies 2001.  


I push open the door
squeeze through the gap
to stand on the painted concrete
in that quiet space
The door closes.
Nailed to the walls
collage of flotsam and jetsam
from an unknown artist.
Atlantic washed,
a Newlyn tiller, an oar,
a piece of net, knotted still,
cut loose from the fisher's boat,
and pinned.
Discarded sardine tins
frame plastic soldiers glued inside.
Palmistry prints mark rice paper.
Inside the catalogue, i see your face,
your name, the date
that you were born.
And hanging too
the print of a Porthmeor wave
with a circle
the colour of the rose
you left between the sheets
of my university bed
thirty-seven years gone.


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