Olaf Breuning is not an eccentric. Rather, he is the art world’s everyman; a sculptor, painter, drawer. A multi-disciplinary whose constantly switching medium has seen him create a myriad of work that ranges from large-scale installations of rainbow coloured smoke bombs to simple pen-and-paper drawings. His evolving, experimental style is beautifully constructed, often serious in nature and, crucially, always delicately glazed with a layer of humour.
‘I can’t stand people without humour’, the Swiss-born, New York-based Breuning declared in an interview in 2013, a sentiment that is clearly echoed in his work, which not only pokes fun at the artist himself, but also at the art world and the inane existence of modern living. Covering a range of often serious topics such as war, violence, the environmental destruction of natural resources, the one thing that Breuning’s work can not be accused of is overthinking. It is the simplicity of the work he creates that has made this self-confessed complainer so successful.
Breuning’s work has been exhibited around the world, appearing in shows in Jerusalem, Dubai, London, New York, Miami Art Basel and Los Angeles. At the Barbican Centre in London, he contributed to Doug Aitken’s collaborative art piece at the Barbican, Station to Station, for which he created a larger-than-life outdoor rainbow smoke bomb, which also saw outings in New York and Miami. In Jerusalem, a series of photographs and drawings were displayed in an exhibition entitled ‘Do Not’, which included a photograph entirely digitally manipulated with emojis for faces. A piece so grounded in the present day culture of technology, and yet for some reason recalls memories of old 90’s video game culture. Those works, reprinted alongside two new works entitled, ‘Transgender with Fish’, and, ‘Virtual Reality is Coming’, are beautiful, their relevance not being lost with time.
And that’s the thing about Olaf’s work, it’s both multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional. Though it focuses on details of the everyday and the current time and place, it has a transcendent, timeless quality. It is difficult to estimate the production date for a piece like ‘Transgender with Fish’, which has an air of discomfort about it, although the humour that is allowed to shine through makes it seem perfectly normal. Your first thought is not to question why this transgender woman is standing in a lily pad-covered pond holding a fish and smoking a pipe, instead you just allow yourself to enjoy the art for art’s sake.
Grounded in reality, Breuning’s work is surrealist and often fantastical. A woman lays on the floor with bread for feet and fingers, tribal uniforms are reimagined on a backdrop of violent red, shadowed by exotic palm trees as a man in camouflage in a devilish mask with buck teeth reclines in the foliage. It’s confusing and yet makes some kind of visual sense. What is he questioning, if anything at all?
Olaf’s constantly switching landscape of work only continues to diversify with each piece, experiment and project he takes on. Having just completed two new volumes, “Olaf Breuning Drawings“, and, “Olaf Breuning“, a monograph, his uncanny and irreverent minefield of work delves, at some moments, deep into the surrealist abyss and at others simply rolls across the surface of reality. He’s an enigma, an ever-changing multi-disciplinarian who can switch from one practice to another as effortlessly as changing lanes. He’s an artistic scientist willing to experiment and operate on a range of mediums. What comes next? Who knows. It could be big, it could be small, it could be both or nothing at all. Whatever is coming, I’ll be keeping a close eye and ear to make sure I don’t miss it. You might want to make sure you do the same.
words by Max Tuson.