Sanou Oumar’s intricate drawings radiate deep feelings of joy. They proclaim the satisfaction of creation, the act of following a line of thought on paper to find where it leads, and the fulfillment of seeing the process actualized as a finished work. Each drawing is an intellectual statement, displaying the pursuit of shapes and abstract systems defined through line, mark, and color—and each a variation on the creative possibilities of paper and pen.
Oumar’s drawn shapes are not defined by outlines, but rather by accumulations of lines into architectures of form. Curved contours repeat to form ovals or triangles that splay out across the paper, while radiating lines construct circles and diamonds that are flipped and arranged to invoke motion. Aggregations of delicately drawn freehand marks are configured into a diverse assortment of shapes.
The resulting complex geometries and patterns generate—as well as invert—positive and negative space on Oumar’s two-dimensional surfaces, moving the eye around in delight in the wake of his hand. Cascades of rectangular forms whirl around complexes of comb-like structures. Spiraling, wavy patterns flow through the gaps between bands of lattice-like grids. Oumar plays with color as well, contrasting the ways in which light reflects off his combinations of brightly pigmented inks. Purples bounce off greens, blues dance with yellows, and reds hum with magentas.
Oumar uses rollerball pens and Sharpie markers to draw, which provide him with a regular, predictable line that he runs repeatedly along a library of stencils and hard-edged tools. Many of these edges are parts of found materials: half a cracked vinyl record, a plastic fragment with circular holes, the remnants of an iPod case. These tools, worked for hours, days, and months by Oumar’s hands and pens, become imbued with the characteristics of his actions and thus extensions of himself. The same can be said of his drawings, each one a kind of fossilization of his lived experience. The works contain the act of drawing and the passage of time: the strategy and decisions in generating form, the ink interacting with his surfaces, the sounds his tools make as he pulls and dots with pens, the systematic movement of his hand and body around the paper.
The works can also be seen as meditations, the results of uninterrupted activity done with a present mind. Many artists have described a kind of “flow state” while working, where time vanishes and the activity undertaken becomes a singular focus. This state can also manifest what contemporary neurological research refers to as “default mode network,” a state of cognition associated with mind wandering, reverie, and self-reflection. Oumar’s drawings seem to carry these states of consciousness implicitly in their diagrammatic, open-ended, and abstract compositions.
Oumar makes a new drawing almost every day. He is constantly expanding his process with more iterations, each with a new set of complex circumstances, and another, and another. His drawings ceaselessly surprise and fascinate the eye, and carry with them a peace, wonder, and pleasure that ultimately invoke a kind of grace.
Butt Johnson is an artist based in Brooklyn.
6/15/20 by Sanou Oumar is available through Maharam Digital Projects, an assemblage of large-scale wall installations created by esteemed artists, designers, illustrators, and photographers.