Albert Oehlen approaches painting as a perceptual challenge, a puzzle set within the unpredictable arena of the picture plane . He often imposes specific rules or limitations on his work—keeping to a certain palette or beginning with a straight line—as a way to interrogate the infinite possibilities that the act of painting presents.

By continuously flipping between chaos and control, he opens up new relationships between pictorial space, color, and gesture. In these new paintings that are now on show at Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong, Oehlen emphasizes the importance of spontaneity within his artistic method.

Diverging from his recent works created with oil or lacquer on aluminum or the aluminum composite Dibond, Oehlen’s decision to use watercolor in this series marks a stylistic return to his hazy, blended, almost impressionistic oil paintings dating from 2016 and earlier.

Oehlen begins with a chalky white ground, across which he flicks and stains splashes of fluid color. Hues dart between canvases: the same intense shade of magenta—a color he previously referred to as “hysterical” in the context of his Tree Paintings (2013–16)—meanders snakelike from painting to painting, puncturing through the murky veil of watercolors in a vivid streak before resurfacing elsewhere as a series of dots peppered down the canvas.

The artist revels in the dynamism of his lines, allowing them to come to life and dictate each twist of his ever-shifting compositions. Nevertheless, his frenzied brushstrokes are tempered by moments of painterly control.

Interspersed between splotches and swipes of color are lines, curves, and gradients, all delineated with satisfying uniformity. While his paintings initially appear to lack geometric regularity, they are in fact filled with clean-cut right angles—including a recurring L-shaped motif, which recalls the artist’s yellow-and-black paintings from his 2018 exhibition SEXE, RELIGION, POLITIQUE.

These forceful right angles—along with rectangular window-like apertures and eerie humanoid forms—are enshrouded deep within the canvas, their watery facture only adding to their frustrating, tantalizing ephemerality. Swallowed up by the slashes of pigment surrounding them, these loose strands of figuration ultimately dissipate within a churning whirlwind of colors.

Image: Albert Oehlen, „Untitled“, 2019, watercolour on canvas, 214 x 183,5 cm, c Albert Oehlen, Photo: Jeff McLane, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

12 September – 29 October 2019