Wild Things Happen in Stillness
Above all, Oh de Laval is interested in human behaviour; the decisions we make, why we make them and how we feel as a result. These decisions are windows into our very personalities. Laval's debut solo exhibition, Wild Things Happen in Stillness, acts as a window into her character, her pleasures and her imaginings.
The act of painting is able to produce infinite potential scenarios. For Laval, painting is a space of pure imagination where anything can happen at any moment. With this in mind, the artist resists the intellectualisation or politicisation of her works, choosing instead to let joy and excitement govern her painted world. Laval’s paintings do not fit into the mould of any particular movement, style or narrative. They elude the boundaries of specific meanings, but they can be linked together by their singular sense of humour and their reoccurring motifs.
The paintings Laval presents in Wild Things Happen in Stillness are exemplary of the artist’s ribald imagination that continually pushes the limits of our expectations. In Love? Worry not. It will just hit you like a comet, a female figure stands in the interior of an art gallery; paintings appear within Laval’s painting itself bordered in gilded golden frames. The figure peers behind her with an expression of mild surprise as a comet materialises from nowhere to strike down her male pursuer. A pair of suited legs and arms protrude from a sizzling and sunken hole in the gallery’s shining wooden floor. A small Pomeranian dog locks eyes with the viewer, grinning cheekily. Dogs have become a trademark of Laval’s paintings, indicating the artist’s love for the animal, but also acting as characters themselves. Throughout Laval’s works dogs appear in all shapes and sizes, displaying anthropomorphic qualities and often acting as extensions of the personalities of their owners. In many cases, the dogs are additional villains, mirroring the traits of their wicked human counterparts. In all instances, these humanised animals add to the distinctive light-heartedness of Laval’s artworks.
Through her paintings Laval aims to convey an unparalleled sense of excitement. Often this excitement is communicated through sex, violence or both. The slower the kiss the faster the heartbeat demonstrates this dual feeling of excitement. Laval’s characteristic sense of humour comes into play as two scenes seemingly unfold as one in this painting. We see a romantic champagne picnic as a man and woman embrace one another atop a vibrantly green cliffside beneath a powder blue sky. After closer study, we notice the glint of a blood-stained dagger in the man’s possession and that the woman he holds dangles over a precipice while a shark waits eagerly, jaws open, in the thrashing waves below. The violent elements within Laval’s paintings engage with and enliven our repressed feelings; the artist paints the way that many of us would like to express ourselves when we are angry, but we cannot. The world within Laval’s works is not restricted by rules or by social convention. Her paintings therefore push boundaries, displaying what we would not normally do but what we perhaps want to deep down. In essence, with Wild Things Happen in Stillness, Oh de Laval reminds us that art can exist purely to excite us for our pleasure and our entertainment.
Oh de Laval in her studio, 2020
In a world where we are constantly encouraged to pick up the pace, Laval invites us to take a moment for ourselves and just have fun.
Writer, curator and contributing editor of Frieze Magazine, Tom Morton, on Oh de Laval:
"Sex and violence (and often money, too) are the animating themes of de Laval’s paintings. The world she depicts is a place of endless leisure, peopled largely by gilded, physically attractive youths – somewhere that despite the occasional contemporary detail has an early 20th century feel, a cross between the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Marcel Proust, the Long Island of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the West London of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies (1930). This privileged, dream-like realm is not without its hazards. Now and then, these have a fantastical quality, whether its divine (the mischievous sea god in Young Poseidon, 2020) or apocalyptic (the fire that falls from the sky in The End of the World). Mostly, however, the challenges faced by de Laval’s characters stem from something far closer to home: each other’s baser appetites, and their own unruly ids..."
"Is de Laval’s painted universe social satire? To a degree, although her real comic (and perhaps in the end moral) target is surely the asymmetry of human desires and human sympathies – something each of us is implicated in, something each of us must negotiate every day. In her canvas Un Dimanche soir a Paris, we see a headless, dinner-jacketed man having sex with a French maid. Bent over a sideboard, this employee –clearly an experienced multi-tasker – does not break off from dusting a series of framed snapshots, one of which depicts a scowling woman who might just be the headless man’s wife. But if this spouse’s photographic image is an unwilling and thoroughly scandalized voyeur, then what does that make us? De Laval composes her painting in such a way that the viewer is positioned on the balcony of the apartment across the street. We might wonder at both our motives for snooping on this titillating, illicit scene, and at what our neighbours might glimpse through our own glowing windows, should they be inclined to look."