deconstructed books


Osborne’s love of literature and, by extension, books as concrete objects came about because-rather than in spite-of his ancestor’s lack of formal education. From an early age Osborne collected books and postcards, newspaper cuttings, football programmes and stamps. A lifelong love of games with their associated slang and humour has informed much of the collaged scrapbooks provisionally stuck to the fading surface with now brittle, yellowing glue or sellotape.


From 1958 onwards Osborne has been a habitual Queens Park Rangers supporter at their atmospheric Shepherd’s Bush stadium. The collages Juventus and Real Madrid draw on period football imagery, the posed team photos ‘doctored’ with the superimposition of heads of cats and dogs. This ironic subterfuge is as endemic to Osborne’s work as is the frequent erotica, the feline or canine masks instilling both an air of menace and mocking satire.


The book as object moves on from literary content to fulfil bibliographic concrete drives. Versed with modern literature from his time as a student tutored by  novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson at the University of East Anglia’s legendary English and American studies department during the early 1970’s, Osborne knows the cultural connotations or symbolic significance of specific books. One is reminded of playwright Joe Orton’s criminal bibliographic vandalism in replacing illustrations in public library art books with collaged pornographic images or of avant gardist John Latham’s edgy Art and Culture (1966) a conceptual piece that, after its early notoriety, found its way into the acceptable annals of the Tate Gallery’s permanent collection. Latham was sacked from St Martin’s School of Art after the theft of critic Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture from the library. His students chewed up the pages of the seminal tome and Latham represented them as a vial of fermented pulp juice in an artwork, the implicit conceptualism of the piece bearing iconoclastic and anti-art meanings. The Greenberg target was tantamount to throwing down a post modern, anti-formalist gauntlet, a provocative gesture with faintly sinister undertones of the Nazi ‘degenerate art’ book burnings.


The book as solid object therefore transcends the literary content within its pages; Osborne invariably prefers a mixture of the verbal and visual. This is true of a rich vein of box collages from the late 1990’s, among which Rediffusion, Service Action and Rime of the Ancient Mariner are prime examples. The wood fragment of a 1960’s television screen in the former bears classic features such as switches, knobs and grooved patterns. The simple lettering and post-art deco stylisation offers a pre-computer graphics clarity and conciseness. The inherent element of nostalgia is complemented with a period football image. This replaces the moving picture compartment within with a static photographic image of Bobby Charlton placing a goal-bound header. Similarly, Service Action uses netting across tennis imagery and a bottle of Brilliantine in a plight of what Osborne describes as “deconstructing the past”. In Rime of the Ancient Mariner Osborne cuts into the book to hollow out an enclave fitted with a Magrittan pipe and bird’s eggs. The vivid Yves Klein Blue paint makes a further oblique art historical reference.

© 2009 - 2021 Robert Osborne | Content managed by MODx | Developed by Ivan Salcedo