In little over two decades, Reinhold Koehler developed an immense body of work, informed by his principle of décollage. Both he and his art belong to the Rhine-Westphalia lands of Germany, where the ‘Gruppe 53’ came to prominence in Düsseldorf in 1953, practicing ‘Informel’, using the Tachist and gestural styles which they essentially derived from Dada. Nowhere else in Germany was there an artistic concentration of this kind. The movement included painters such as Peter Brüning, Karl Fred Dahmen, Albert Fürst, Herbert Götzinger, Gerhard Hoehme, Hahn Trier, Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. It was also during this time that Gerhardt Richter came over from Eastern Germany to be able to paint freely. He practiced Tachism, then a form of Pop Art before turning to his trade-mark style of blurry press-photographs.
Amidst this buoyant artistic scene, Koehler was a lone wolf. He had single-handedly developed the technique of ‘décollage’ and used it as early as 1948, ten years before the Neo-Dadaists. It was on the Island of Sylt that Koehler first used the technique in a series depicting seagulls. He shaped the birds out of pieces of cardboard he had covered in black ink and then torn parts off to make visible a form of figuration. His early use of different techniques of manipulating paper were revolutionary: tearing, cutting by knife, scratching by knife or fingers and unravelling.
During 1955-58, Koehler produced work in which he scratched and scraped imagery into monotypes covered with oil paint, printing inks and gouache. During the same period, Koehler also made his first sand paintings. The year 1957 also saw Koehler develop his first ‘Plakat-Décollages’, works made of superimposed layers of newspaper, magazine adverts and posters, glued on card from which areas were carefully torn away, revealing the imagery underneath. From 1958 onwards, Koehler introduced areas cut or scratched away by knife in works that became known as ‘Décollages Gravés’. From these were born the works known as ‘Décollages Purs et Gravés’ where Koehler used freehand tearing alongside knife cuts and scratches. In 1959, Koehler added yet another variant of ‘décollage’ to his oeuvre, the so-called ‘Décollage Positiv-Negativ’, in which he carefully tore away a layer of paper by hand to then fold it over and glue it so as to display and integrate its underbelly within the final compostion.
In 1960, Koehler started experimenting with fire and made a series of paper supports blackened with the imprint of heated metal, usually items such as forks but also other kitchen paraphernalia, known as ‘Décollages Brûlés’. In 1963, Koehler reached another creative height with the production of his ‘Contre-Collages’, décollages covered with glass which he then smashed and covered with ink to create a new image. Along this line of epxerimentation, Koehler also composed works formed of broken objects, such as plates and bottles.
His work was the subject of numerous one-man shows in Siegen, Wiesbaden, Groningen, as well as articles by scholarly writers such as Helmut Heissenbüttel, Wilhelm Nettmann and Wieland Schmied.
Between 1949 and his untimely death in 1970, Koehler had one-man shows in Siegen with Galerie Nohl and in most German capital cities. During his lifetime, his work was exhibited worldwide in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Morocco, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. His unique contribution to art history was recognised during his lifetime. In 1985 the Sprengel Museum, Hannover hosted a retrospective show, which travelled to the Wilhelm-hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, the Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna and the Siegerland-Museum, Siegen.
1950, Galerie Kunstspiegel, Freiburg im Breisgau
1951, Museum des Siegerlandes, Siegen
1951, Museum Haus am Dom, Mainz
1958, Galerie Lometsch, Kassel
1958, Galerie ruth Nohl, Siegen
1958, Galerie Alfred Schmela, Düsseldorf
1958, Galerie Klaus Franck, Frankfurt/Main
1960, Galerie Otto van de Loo, München
1960, Städtisches Museum, Weisbaden
1961, Galerie Boukes, Wiesbaden
1961, Kunstpavilllon, Soest
1961, Galerie Lometsch, Kassel
1963, Galerie Boukes, Wiesbaden
1964, Märkisches Museum, Witten
1964, Kunstzaal de mangelgang, Groningen
1964, Galerie Albert Waalkens, Finsterwolde
1964, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1964, junge Galerie, Kassel
1964, Städtische Galerie, Siegen
1965, Studiengalerie Techn. Hochschule, Stuttgart
1965, von-deer-Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
1965, Galerie Na Karlove Námesti, Prague
1966, Kunstpavillion, Soest
1966, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1967, Galerie Porta, Wuppertal-Barmen
1968, Forum für visuelle Experimente, Solingen
1968, Galerie Hans Jörg Meyer, Stuttgart
1968, Kleine-Grafik-Galerie, Bremen
1968, Galerie Toni Brechbühl, Grenchen
1968, Galerie Ruth Nohl, Siegen
1968, Galerie K 235, Köln
1968, Galerie Weinelt, Hof
1969, Galerie Schiessel, Köln
1969, Städtischer Kunstverein, Bochum
1970, Galerie S-Press, Blankstein
1970, Städtische Galerie, Siegen
1977, Galerie Karin Fesel, Wiesbaden
1980, Galerie Karin Fesel, Wiesbaden
1985, Sprengel Museum Hannover
1985/1986, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen
1986, Museum moderner Kunst, Palais Liechtenstein, Wien
1986, Siegerland-Museum, Siegen