Hans Martin Øien

Hans Martin Øien's (b. 1964) sculptures make a special and highly original contribution to Norwegian contemporary art. As one of the few artists of his generation, he is a true sculptor. Although he can cast plaster, forge iron and cut stone, he works mainly in wood. He is a postmodern artist.

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This is not only due to the fact that his art is difficult to be limited by formal issues and themes that are unique to the sculpture, but also by the fact that he uses traditional techniques and easily recognizable motifs. He is also a postmodern artist in that his work shows a stylistic and thematic diversity. He works with different style impulses and he can draw his role models and ideas from the Norwegian wooden tradition, from international contemporary art and from popular culture.

Hans Martin Øien's method consists in that he acquires (appropriates) forms and motifs, which he saw due to his talent for craftsmanship and visual form, manages to put together into new, strange sculptures. His sense of wholeness and how weight must be maintained on the shelf and shelf or balanced, as well as how a machine or device functions, makes the audience easily move around the sculptures and feel on the body how the elements are put together into an aesthetic whole. In some works he can use shapes such as gears, a growth bar or a hoist, and then the experience of the sculpture will also consist of seeing how the different parts fit into each other. Not least this applies to the fabulous "Lego figures", which were originally made as a construction set with simple gripping hands and heads to turn.

In Øien's sculpture we also see a very strong surrealistic impulse, which is also related to popular taste. He uses subjects he has found, whether it is a root or a solid beam in oak, saved from the bedding. As an Askeladd who finds interesting elements and as the surrealists who went to the flea market to find things that they then put together into new, enigmatic wholes, Hans Martin Øien conjures up a new form of superfluous materials. He still lets these retain some of their original character. One of the role models for Øien's sculpture is what was called "The New British Sculpture" in the 1980s. What characterizes these - especially Richard Deacon - is that they maintain and remember the workshop techniques that characterized old craftsmanship, such as gluing and bending of wood in boat building and welding and metal riveting in shipbuilding and aircraft construction. The same slightly old-fashioned feeling we often get in the encounter with Øien's sculpture: They are visible memories of a digitalized time.

The works contain symbols most people can recognize quite immediately, like a flame (the primordial power that the god Vulcan found for humans and thus made civilization possible); the artist's creative hand; the barbell principle; the figure which is both bird, fish, human and with wind in its hair. Together with the folkloristic tendencies - including ornamental finishes that can be found in traditional furniture - this creates a good basis for dialogue with the audience. The popular impulse in Øien's work is crowned by his collaboration with graffiti artists. Graffiti is one of today's popular expressions, something we like to see as something direct and energetic straight from the depths of the people, as we also like to understand the 18th and 19th century rose paint and woodcuts in rural Norway. 

The large wooden ball that hangs in equilibrium from a chain is reminiscent of Chris Burden's gigantic and much heavier "Medusa's Head" (1989-92), a solid steel / veneer / concrete globe where the rails of a model railway meander over "mountain ranges" and through " tunnels ». The small sloping shelves associate very strongly with similar shelves at Haim Steinbach, whose elegant respatex and veneer shelves from the 1980s admittedly formed the basis for glossy mass-produced items and consumables. The use of a casting of his own hand evokes the memory of Bruce Nauman's metal sculptures, where two hands in casting touch each other. The small forest of vertical figures that Øien has placed on a euro pallet, is reminiscent of abstract figures made of e.g. Russian-born Louise Nevelson and French-born Louise Bourgeois in New York in the 1940s and 50s. Such beings were and are hybrids, mixtures of many different elements. We see the same in Øien's two free-standing figure sculptures. They too are composed of parts, and it is the composition and the vertical shape that make us see them as human-like figures. These are scorpions that in mythological tradition are related to humans, animals and vegetation.

The method in the figures is reminiscent of a special game the surrealists loved during the interwar period. They called it the "Exqusite Corpse". The paper was folded in four and four different ones were drawn, feet, legs, torso and head, respectively. No one got to see what the others had drawn, so when they finally unfolded the sheet and saw a whole figure, it was something completely new and unexpected, a result none of the four could have foreseen on their own. Today there are websites where you can participate in this game.

In art history, it is often called a quote if a model is so direct that it appears as a repetition. We see one such quote in the figure «Abstract figuration». The pipe that has threaded through the abdominal region of the sickle is taken from Robert Gober's use of large drainage pipes, which he has threaded through both the back of a chair and a full-length sculpture of the Virgin Mary. - Hans Martin Øien's art has great breadth and deep ground. As an audience, you can draw on your knowledge and experience and you can find clues to interpretations in everything from Greek mythology, over art historical references to Norwegian folk art - from before and now.

Åsmund Thorkildsen

Museum director

Monday to Friday 11.00 - 15.00

Wednesday 11.00 – 18.00

Saturday 11.00 – 16.00 (free admission)

Sunday 11.00 – 16.00