Enlivening the malnourished optic nerve, Sanou Oumar’s eleven laborious pen-and-paperboard works mingle tantric designs, hard-edge abstraction, and vibrant adornment in items of selfless concentration. Improvising in the manner of a doodle, the Burkina Faso–born artist often traces nearby objects—his ID card, clothing tags, a floss pick—to find his shapes, encrypting the ordinary into percepts of cosmic equipoise often reminiscent of Buddhist sand mandalas or gothic cathedral windows. See 8/23/20 (all works cited, 2020) in which a circular screen, patterned with scrolling orange tendrils, circumscribes a ring of four smaller orbs, these enclosing outgrowths of sensual, petallike curves that bleed into shades of peach and coral. 6/15/20, with its colorful tessellations and irregular black grid, evokes two Dutch exports: African wax prints and Piet Mondrian.
Beside expanding the traditional idioms of modernism, these compositions serve a transcendental purpose. Like Mondrian, Oumar moved to New York as a refugee. Amid the trauma of displacement, he found a meditative, healing ritual in drawing, and a way to connect with a higher plane that has invited comparisons to the spiritualist painters Emma Kunz and Hilma af Klint. Yet unlike them, the draftsman appears motivated less by an imagined future than by a desire to bridge the past with the present. The press release speaks of a deeply personal symbology: a pink flourish may indicate the artist’s late mother, a set of spiderweb lines the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. Such memories of memories ripple across Oumar’s sleek, opaque surfaces, acquiring new associations with each viewer. Consider him a pupil of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn.”