For 11 years, Thomas Ostenberg was Vice President of Citibank, and worked in international finance in New York, Brazil and Spain. He says, his biggest break was 'discovering that I wanted to be and was an artist at heart.'
He left the commercial banking world, returned to school, earning a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MA from the Royal College of Art, London. Ostenberg maintains this change was precipitated by '15 years of seeing great art on three continents.' In particular, he cites a major Velazques exhibition in Madrid and a visit to the Rodin Museum in Paris. At the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Ostenberg experienced Picasso's early work, impressing upon him that Picasso was not born a genius but had to develop his skills just like any other beginning artist.
Among these pivotal experiences, Ostenberg's influence and inspiration is derived from Isamu Noguchi, Henri Matisse, and the Etruscans and ancient cultures. In primitive culture's art, 'The poetry, honesty, seeming innocence and lack of pretense in their work takes my breath away. I strive to achieve that in my own work,' Ostenberg says. "Success in a Material World" was one of the first pieces he ever made. The piece is a riff on his past life as a mover and shaker. There I was fast-tracking, even on vacation, checking in with my office every day. Without me, of course the bank would fall apart! Like the horses in my pieces, there I was galloping along, —but going nowhere fast."
Ostenberg's sculptures of "Everyman", —acrobatic, dancing, prancing, leaping figures, —find their historical antecedents in early Etruscan art, Italian bronzes, Minoan bull-leapers and the wheeled platforms of the Celts. These attenuated forms recall the works of Surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
His sculpture has been called joyful and magical, words not often applied to contemporary art. The surfaces of these bronze sculptures communicate a tangible love of process. The works contain human figures and/or frequently horses on a variety of ladders, wheels and spheres, performing acrobatics and balancing acts much like those associated with the circus. This is not to say, however, that his sculptures are frivolous or trivial. On the contrary, what may at first appear only as a feat intended to entertain is, at a deeper level, a wonderous allegory full of hope, strength, stamina, determination. The titles of Ostenberg's sculptures alone: Notion of Place, Truth and Consequence, In Pursuit of a Clearer Understanding, Mind Over Matter, A Question of Perspective, Matter Don't Matter, give a sense of positive action that results in personal, and therefore, public benefit, with an understanding of life as a gift rather than a predicament. The sculptures themselves depict feats of enormous physical control and extraordinary mental focus. To view them is to experience triumph over contemporary malaises such as nihilism and despondency, to receive a message of calm amidst chaos - and ultimately, to feel joy in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
1998 Selected as British representative to Frabriq'art, program sponsored by the European Union
1998 Featured artist to create work for inauguration of Artis Tree Art Center, Hutchinson, KS
1999 Royal Society of British Sculptors
1997 Battersea Park Annual Sculptor Award, London
1996 Rayne Foundation Grant
1995 Henry Moore Foundation Grant
1995 Worshipful Brotherhood of Founders Grant, London