It’s the first cold day of Berlin’s encroaching winter and two big, black poodles have arrived at the Royal Porcelain Factory. Spread across multiple floors inside one of the buildings, works by thirty different artists have taken up temporary residence as part of Galerie Droste’s "Chronicles 3" exhibition for Berlin Art Week, but the poodles are (sadly) not there to gallery hop. They’ve been summoned to accompany one of the featured artists, the Polish-Thai painter Oh de Laval, on a walk around the neighborhood — all while a photographer, stylist, makeup artist, and hairstylist hover around them like a constellation.
While holding the leash of the two poodles dressed in head-to-toe designer clothing is not generally a normal Sunday afternoon activity for the painter, the glamor of it all is unmistakably on-brand. The artist has found inspiration in both painter Francis Bacon’s hedonistic lifestyle and sociologist Émile Durkheim’s theory that deviance is necessary to a functioning, successful society. Add to these two influences de Laval’s lifelong love affair with the French New Wave, Italian cinema, and Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and it becomes clear why her paintings often feel like you’ve opened the wrong door and intruded into scenes of opulent surrealism.
It is the absurdity and beauty of life that sparks de Laval’s urge to create: “I want all my paintings to remind people that life is really, really unpredictable, and it's a bit tragic, and a bit of fun. People always have a hope that somewhere, some day, when they go to work, something amazing will happen to them. It’s very cinematic, but sometimes, something amazing does happen, and it makes for a good painting.”
But take one look at de Laval’s work and it’s clear she isn’t solely interested in the amazing. Alongside the sense of wonder that infuses some of her pieces sits another, more devilish aura, one that is focused on the “darker side of being human.”
This clash has made for a body of work that has caught the attention of everyone from art collectors and gallery owners to Gucci and the singer Kali Uchis. Aside from her cinematic inspirations, the visual style takes cues from cartoons she watched as a child; her paintings feel ripped from storybooks that would have been pulled from bookshelves for being too vulgar. They evoke classic Hans Christian Anderson illustrations, yet they are packed with enough decadence to make Jay Gatsby blush.