Frederica Miller on ‘Deus Ex Machina’ at Kunstraum Düsseldorf, until June 26, 2015
‘Deus Ex Machina’ is the evocative title of young German artist Christian Achenbach’s current solo show at Kunstraum Düsseldorf. Born in Siegen in 1978, Achenbach went on to study at the University of Arts in Berlin where he later became a master student of Anselm Reyle. Since then his work has gained international attention for its powerfully dynamic nature. Primarily a painter and more recently a sculptor, Achenbach is also a musician and many of his works are inspired by musical motives, influenced by both punk and jazz there is an obvious energy behind his process which is present to the point of appearing spontaneous. However Achenbach’s works are far from improvised, they are carefully composed to contain stark contrasts which skilfully play-off against one another. In ‘Deux Ex Machina’ Achenbach surprises the viewer by creating balance amongst the visual chaos.
The exhibition which, is spread across Kunstraum Düsseldorf’s generous space, consists of 15 paintings and 3 mixed sculptures. The paintings are unapologetically intense; most measure around 2×2 metres upwards and combine oil, acrylic and lacquer paint in such an outrageous range of colours that even the smaller canvases stand defiantly out against the room’s white walls.
‘Deux Ex Machina’ itself is one of the first works that one sees on entering the exhibition, aptly named the painting features a bold grey doorway burst open by a flood of dramatic colours. Within the fractured doorframe lies a broken backdrop that has been horizontally divided into two. The upper half is filled with brightly coloured stripes reminiscent of T.V testcards, their strict symmetry is on the one hand corrupted by overlying splashes of acrylic paint and on the other side contrasted by the unlikely presence of a single grey curtain. The lower half of the piece deepens this disparity in style; whilst the stripes from above are diagonally recreated across the bottom right corner, the centre section features darker colours and constructivist spheres, which are smudged and splashed across with uneven streaks of white lacquer. The bulk of this digital vs historical explosion is calmly contained by a grey and white background. ‘Deux Ex Machina’ invites the viewer into a world of accomplished artistic comparisons that resonate throughout the exhibition.
‘Galactica’ is not only one of the largest works in the show but also stylistically one of the most complex. The underlying subject of the painting is cyclists, a nod to Futurism this motif is outlined and overlapped by several other styles which prevent it from becoming the central theme. Movement is key to the work’s composition, the bicycles’ frames are partly concealed by a flurry of colour and their wheels drive across monochrome stripes reminiscent of Op Art which, are in turn orbited by bright geometrical forms. The cyclists themselves carry their own interpretations; whilst the girl in a red hat at the back evokes the Dutch Golden Age, the green mole-like creature and the half-hidden motorbike helmet in the centre as well as the snowman in a top hat at the front seem to poke fun at the viewer for drawing such connections. Detail is not sacrificed to the painting’s kinetic nature and from the sharp electric bike lamp at the front to the woman’s pink shoes at the back, the dark blue foreground that envelops the figures creates gesture whilst highlighting the work’s subtler aspects. ‘Galactica’ displays a skilful juggling of styles which orbit one another without colliding, their dynamic presence is playfully underlined with subtle irony.
At the centre-back of the room rests one of Achenbach’s new sculptures. The piece rests on a white cubic plinth like an abstract and patterned propeller. It consists of 12 multicoloured aluminium profiles which are positioned to meet at the middle. Each slat is uniquely shaped and individually painted to form its own geometrical outline. Walking around the sculpture one is presented with a new artwork at every angle. The precise profiles interact to create new shapes and images as their intensely painted surfaces collide. With his sculptures Achenbach succeeds in one again combining a variety of techniques in order to produce something singular, in particular the painterly aspect of his 3D works set them apart.
‘Deux Ex Machina’ is a daring show that confidently plays with a range of artistic references in order to create its own. Achenbach allows his artist’s ‘box of magic tricks’ to explode only to rearrange and reinvent the contents much like they were musical notes. The artist’s strong technique and clever compositions see him place painting in a new and exciting realm. The exhibition is on view at Kunstraum Düsseldorf until June 28th and there will be an artist’s talk given at the venue on June 25th at 20:00hr.