Odili Donald Odita’s colors are not easy. Like those of Ellsworth Kelly or Ad Reinhardt, they sear into the eye with deep chromatic intensity. For Odita, hue produces a complex set of relations, a rhythm. In the artist’s show here, his abstract paintings—made on wood panels topped with striated wood veneers—glow with acrylic shapes arranged into scintillating configurations, which touch and then break away, dehiscing into what feels like ceaseless multiplication. While looking at Odita’s works, I forget their edges, for it seems that his patterns could spin out beyond the boundaries of the panel, filling the surrounding space.
Yet, in lingering with these compositions, concrete realities begin to surface, making his elegantly conceived paintings difficult to bear. Take the exhibition’s namesake, Burning Cross, (all works cited, 2022), which features groupings of elongated knifelike triangles that stretch across the composition’s four quadrants to form something resembling the titular figure. While the title of this work makes a direct reference to racial violence in the United States, other pieces, such as Global, operate with a bit more stealth. Here, a quartet of jagged shapes rendered in pleasant hues—salmon, lavender, mint, and dove gray—have been laid out so that a swastika becomes visible in the negative spaces formed between them.
Odita’s critique of power is layered, levied not only through his subtle references to history and its dark iconography, but also via the works’ internal architectures. When they are visually broken apart, the artist’s loaded symbols reveal recurring modular shapes—partially inspired by his study of West African textiles—which helps route his abstractions away from any presumed Western origins. Odita reminds us that so-called political content can be intrinsic to aesthetic forms, and that painting bears its own responsibilities within the structures of violence addressed in the image of a burning cross.
— Zoë Hopkins