Research Assignment – Albert Oehlen and Cecily Brown – Sabrina Yau

            A recurring technique in Albert Oehlens’ “FM” paintings is the smearing of paint across the canvas. He believes in process, and therefore does not have an idealized concept of the image in the early stages of working. These concepts will be further explained by critically looking at his piece “Fingermalerei 45” completed in 2011. The content of his work oscillates between informal figuration expressed through the marks that can sometimes be seen as figures. Although this painting looks like finger painting that could have been accomplished very quickly, there was a thought process involved with the colours used and the marks made. The brown and the blue smears create a symmetrically balanced painting because of the colour balance created on all ends of the painting. The white negative space helps to create a strong contrast with the bright colours of the smears. This would be classified as an abstract painting because of its emphasis on colour and composition. His painting journey is expressed through the layers of paint overlapped on top of each other. He does not believe in the existence of an idealized concept of an image, but he does accomplish beauty through resistance, failure, and ugliness. Resisting, failing, and creating ugliness all contribute to the process of creating a beautiful image. It is not without these stages that beauty can be achieved because each creates a creative difficulty that challenges the artist. Furthermore it is these challenges that push Oehlen further into his creative process and therefore creating this “ideal” image. He strongly believes in his own creative process, and it is through those three aspects that he reaches a strong composition. Process resonates throughout this painting because he experiments with the limits of the medium, either through smearing, using a dry brush technique, or quick strokes, and as viewers, we then see the steps taken towards creating the final product.

            Cecily Brown is an artist who is fully aware of the effects of history, and has no interest in escaping the past. She paints according to her perception and our perception of the world; she sees it as an ever changing, never static world and expresses this through her quick brush strokes. Looking back to abstract expressionism, she creates a tension when choosing how much representation, as in pictorial references, she wants to give the viewer. Many of her paintings are often cast in erotic and sexual situations, where her figures advance and recede into her created spaces.  In “Summer Storm” completed in 2000, you can clearly see figures emerging in the foreground and background of the painting. The reason for this is because of the limited colour scheme for this painting, since all objects are treated with the same tone of colour, viewers would have some trouble distinguishing between the figures and background depicted in the painting. She uses mainly neutral tones in this painting which directly references to flesh, further pushing this tension between background and figure. Browm made it possible for critics to speak of sex in relation to a woman artist instead of the typical male artist, which adds a whole new dimension to the criticism of the “male gaze” through a female painter. Although she has chosen to paint and explore the female gaze within depictions of human sexuality, she does not see her work as political. It is evident that her paintings are deeply rooted in the histories of painting, from the strong influences of abstract expressionism to similar content like landscape and nude figures. She brings forth the overused content in painting, and creates a new playing field for this content by using canvases as sites of action or activity; making it also possible to retrace the marks made on the canvas.


Albert Oehlen. Albert Oehlen. Italy: Arte’m srl, February 2009.

Cecily Brown. Cecily Brown. New York: Des Moines Art Center, 2006.

Tumlir. Cecily Brown. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2003.

Von Herausgegeben. Albert Oehlen – 2012 Turpentine. Germany: Junst Museum, 2012.Image
Albert Oehlen, Fingermalerei 45, 2011
Cecily Brown, Summer Storm, 2000

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