In Dramatic Portraits and Genre Scenes, Erwin Olaf Complicates Conventions
Now at Hasted Kreutler, a solo exhibition of his recent work presents a mixture of genre scenes. The exhibition coincides with the publication of Volume II (published by Aperture), the second in a series of monographs detailing the artist’s work and life. Olaf began his career studying and practicing journalism; his love of storytelling comes through in his photographs. As his works suggest, he has a particular affinity for the history of narrative painting, including the light of
Much of Olaf’s work refers to earlier artists and their work. The photographs in the exhibition make reference to styles and imagery from much of the 20th century. The Boxing School (2005), with its rich browns and warm whites, features two sparring opponents in a gym, facing the viewer while their backs are turned to one another. The tones and the opposing fighters resemble the pugilistic paintings of
Of his interest in identity, Olaf explains, “I’m obsessed with masks: with taking away identity or with revealing the mask.” As a
Panoramic scenes, such as Caroline (2007), create more complicated but no less iconic tableaux: a ’70s-era woman conflicted by domesticity. Here, his protagonist sits pensively near the edge of her seat, another settee before her empty, the room bright and dense with apprehension. The drama of Olaf’s pictures is largely expressed through the careful deployment of details such as the furniture, clothing, and his protagonists’ styles. Such precise imagery can conjure whole worlds and eras.
“Waiting: Selections from Erwin Olaf: Volume I & II” is on view at Hasted Kraeutler, New York, Jan. 8–Feb. 28, 2015.