A dynamic juxtaposition of strict geometry and supple elasticity structures the present work, creating a palpable sense of energy and vigor. Vibrant swirling lines of jet black, tangerine, lime, ruby, and goldenrod pigment dance across the canvas, intercepting the hazy swaths of cool brown and rich grey that unify the composition under a cloud-like mirage. Beneath these organic forms, viewers can discern the rigidly gridded lines of a tiled floor and the crisp outline of a white “L” shaped form that cuts across the canvas. The synthesis of disparate forms and tones calls to mind Kandinsky’s foundational forays into abstraction. Describing such variegation in Oehlen’s works, critic Alastair Sooke writes, “Most successful, though, were his large vibrant canvases characterized by violent clashes of color. They give an impression of visual chaos, with unruly brushstrokes clamoring for attention. But spend a few minutes in front of them, and you realize that the chaos has been carefully thought out” (Alastair Sooke, “I want my paintings to like me,” The Telegraph, July 2006, online). The colors of Treppe collide in a mad torrent, breathing soul into the various intersecting forms.
Oehlen crafts a virtuosic interplay between figuration and abstraction in Treppe, inviting his viewers to carefully consider its constitutive elements. He draws them into an irresistible game of decoding its composition in search of hidden figurative elements. As curator Bonnie Clearwater explains, the effect of such encryption is beguiling: “Not only does Oehlen introduce fragments of representational images in inconsistent scales, but he also varies the size of the abstract units in a painting: the relative size of each shape moves the viewer’s attention towards, away from, and across the picture plane in rapid succession. The figurative elements exist without dominating the canvas. At first glance, the paintings appear purely abstract. Only after the viewer has spent some time with these works do the figurative elements reveal themselves” (Bonnie Clearwater in Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 422). With its intoxicating cadence and rhythmic potency, Treppe stands as a veritable testament to the abiding individualism of Oehlen’s artistic project.
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