This book presents a recent series of large-format collage paintings by Albert Oehlen, who uses cheerily cheap advertising posters to build compositions that reveal themselves as interiors only on second gaze: edges of walls and floors, the elegant curve of a designer chair. Thus the artist not only conflates the high and low but also shows how the loud commercial messages have invaded our private space.
SO MUCH OF EVERYTHING!
Prices, water, a smiling swimming lady, lager, peas, office blocks, burgers, tyres, headphones, tonic water, happy restaurant people, hair, TV, smiling young woman, sunshade, jeans, steak, spine, hat stand, handsome man, plastic pig, white lingerie.
These are some of the images from advertising posters out of which Albert Oehlen has made his series of large-scale collage paintings, Interieurs. Their relation to Pop is ambiguous, ambivalent, but apparent – a sub-sonic pulse. They are composed in such a manner that their visual rhythm can appear at once brusque and complex: the viewer seems to experience a bombardment of typography, colours, shapes, and fragments of recognizable imagery, some cut by the artist into a silhouette form of human figures. The visual sensory impact of these canvases is therefore also immediate, vivid, visceral, and at times, or cumulatively, disorienting and somewhat neurasthenic. At the same time, there is rich emotional pleasure in these bombardments of colour and form, which appear to possess a dynamic momentum while also retaining a clarity and freshness, aerated by a bravura dialogue between space and form.
It seems interesting to imagine that a viewer is coming to these highly charged assemblages with no further information about the artist or his intentions. We first respond, perhaps, to the immediacy and visual clamour that these compositions communicate – rather as though a television had suddenly been turned on, at full volume.
Our next instinct might be to try to seek out some coherence and logic – our gaze searching the picture plane for some point to rest upon: a bottle of soda, a face, a word. Here and there in these collages we do find coherent, virtually intact images. They take their place within the dizzying arrangement of otherwise fragmented shards of imagery. When we focus on them, the commotion settles, and its reverse emerges: almost formalism, disciplined, deeply felt, its expressiveness controlled and thus articulated by a translation of the representational into the abstract. And here the discernment of ‘interiors’ may begin to emerge. These are glimpses, as opposed to insights: a dining room table, patio furniture, a wicker-backed chair. They take their place as though within a succession of garish broken perspectives comprised of blocks and shapes of sliced raw commercial graphics.
And thus, as we look further, the inchoate roar of the visual language begins to engage in part with the language of painterly Abstraction. That when we cease to search for any visual ‘meaning’ save that of tempo, form, colour and composition, we discover a compelling synthesis of found commercial imagery into contemplations of pure form – a balancing of the figurative machine-made image, the semiotic, the aesthetic, the anthropological and a form of modern poetics.