Atle Østrem’s “Beauglyful” Urbanity
A street artist since the mid-nineties who has recently taken up fine art, Østrem has exhibited widely in Norway and Germany, and recently had his U.S. debut at Asbury, N.J. gallery Exhibit No. 9. His paintings focus on human-animal-cartoon hybrids with gritted teeth and faces that shift from despondent to excitable, often accompanied by graffiti-like text that either tags the space they inhabit or captions the existential angst associated with daily life in modern society.
Østrem’s process is intuitive, starting from scratch and growing into a concept as the work takes shape. “I start with an idea and while working on it the idea sometimes changes. So very often the painting turns out very different to what I first planned. I never use sketches, and I try to work loosely and impulsively,” he says. “I also seldom try to fix or repaint mistakes, but like to use the mistakes as a way to take the painting in a new direction.” This results in works that have layers of text and image, imitating worked over walls in popular graffiti spots in any urban environment.
Titles such as Bored to Debt and A Whole Lotta Nada seem to place his characters as disenfranchised. However, a layer of dark humor and protest regarding the modern condition is also prevalent in works such as A Breath Of Fresh Air and Reversed Engineering, both of which depict figures eating city blocks or office buildings: these people are taking control of their environment and rising above it.