Upper Arlington News

'Rojo' collection

Color, heritage inspire artist's work

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Paul Vernon/ThisWeekNEWS
Mexico native and Upper Arlington resident Elena Osterwalder drew on her heritage as inspiration for the oil paintings in her "Rojo" collection, on display at Argo & Lehne Jewelers in Upper Arlington through September. "Rojo" is the Spanish word for "red."
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

An Upper Arlington artist hopes to capture the spirit of her homeland and portray the radiance of color through an exhibit that intertwines art and jewelry.

Born in Mexico City in 1941, Elena Osterwalder spent nearly three decades in her native country before moving to Columbus in 1970 and to Upper Arlington a year later.

To this day, her heritage spills onto her paintings, and that is evident in her Rojo -- Spanish for "red" -- collection, which is on display at Argo & Lehne Jewelers, 3100 Tremont Road, through September.

"We use a lot of red in Mexico," Osterwalder said. "It's everywhere, like the flag, and it even here, it represents things like death and passion and love."

To Osterwalder, color "was, is and will forever be." She said it fills her works with vibrancy and inspires her.

Her Rojo collection was created in 2004 and 2005. Originally consisting of 30 oil paintings on canvas, there now are 12 -- the rest have been sold to collectors -- and those 12 are on display at Argo & Lehne.

They also represent the end of an era for the artist, as it was the last time she worked in oils before converting to organic and natural dyes.

"The oil paints I was using had warnings about carcinogens and I got breast cancer shortly before I did this collection," she said.

Osterwalder was invited to display and sell her Rojo collection at Argo & Lehne as part of the store owners' recent movement to replace giftware jewelry with fine art.

"We were looking for something to replace our traditional giftware jewelry and we thought high-end art would fit," said Bob Argo, owner and chief executive officer of Argo & Lehne and a former Upper Arlington Cultural Arts Commission vice president. "Elena's been a good customer of ours and I saw some of her art at the (Upper Arlington) Municipal Services building.

"It was very captivating. This 'red' really intrigued me and it really warmed up the story. It's just very effective for my venue."

The subtitle to Osterwalder's Rojo collection is "El rojo domina," which translates to "Red has taken over."

The artist used different layers of color, over which she applied varnish to provide depth, she said.

"It's very simple, but it's not," she said. "It's quite a sophisticated way of painting."

Although she sought a layered effect, the Columbus College of Art & Design graduate said she doesn't typically visualize pieces before creating them.

Still, she acknowledged the Rojo collection bleeds her heritage.

"When you work, you don't really think very much," Osterwalder said. "When you look back after you're done, it all ties back to Mexico. It flows."

Osterwalder said she hopes the Argo & Lehne exhibit reaches a new audience of art lovers and inspires them with its beauty.

She also hopes to sell the remaining pieces, but that optimism isn't wholly driven by capital pursuits.

"I would like some of the pieces to go to good homes," she said. "If it comes back to my house, nobody sees it, and I would like to see every painting to be seen in a new light.

"Every painting has a life of its own and I would like for people to see that."