Galerie Max Hetzler presents an exhibition of new paintings by Albert Oehlen at the Paris gallery.
Since the 1980s Oehlen has been probing the possibilities of painting through an ever-evolving style and technique. At the core of his practice are the limitations he imposes on himself as a point of departure, in order to have ‘something to push against’ and thereby expand and redefine our understanding of painting. In this new body of work, Oehlen demonstrates the consistency of his approach in setting narrow parameters to create stark and powerful imagery that highlight his will for constant renewal.
“Freedom for me means playing. It does not mean to be in a void and make crazy moves. It means to play with your own rules.”
In the new paintings eccentric shapes and forms float untethered on the open surface. The self-appropriation of the tree motif and an allusion to the Fingermalerei (Finger Paintings) paintings is consistent with Oehlen’s continual quest to reveal the process of painting and what occurs on the pictorial surface during that process. The tree motif first appeared in Sturmschaden in 1981 and again in the late 80s. It was at the same time that Oehlen was exploring the formal possibilities of the tree that he made his first purely abstract paintings in 1988.
Presented as a question of the line, the tree has become for Oehlen another rule – it has form and lines that taper off. Like Mondrian before him, Oehlen uses the line of the tree as an experiment to navigate between abstract and figurative forms, surface and depth: “I see the tree as a program for my work, not just as a motif.”
The fields of bright yellow which serve as the background for the paintings is suggestive of sunshine and nature, yet the format of these works is not typical of a landscape or a vertical tree. Presented as a square, it engages with the geometric possibilities explored on the surface. Painted onto Alubond, an aluminium panel that offers an extremely smooth ground, the reduced black lines and forms dissect the picture plane, often extending beyond the support to open up the space in-between.
Combining the impersonal gesture of spray paint with bold geometric lines, the latter reminiscent of the computer paintings begun in 1992, Oehlen investigates the positive / negative opposition between the flat support and the texture of the paint as it dissolves and drips down the surface. Balancing the immediacy of free gesture with restricted mark-making along a template, the paintings oscillate between geometric rigidity and organic forms.
Exhibited in conjunction with Albert Oehlen: Sexe, Religion, Politique at Gagosian Paris, the reduction of colour, depth and surface in this new body of work highlights Oehlen’s recourse to recurrent themes to give himself a framework beyond which to explore. Like Bam Bam and Natty Dread Something – evocative titles given to works – the paintings remain open-ended, calling us to take time, stop and look.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)