Oehlen’s riotous aesthetic fuses a complex blend of styles, techniques and mediums. He has worked in distinct series, such as the murky Grey Paintings (1997–2008); explored permutations of single motifs, as exemplified in the stark black membranes and careful gradients of colour in his Baumbilder (Tree Paintings); and employed unusual materials, such as pieces of mirror in his Spiegelbilder (Mirror Paintings) (1982–90), and other works that combine oils, resin, spray-paint and collaged inkjet printing.
In 1990, Oehlen purchased his first computer, which led him to create what became perhaps his most celebrated series: his Computer Paintings (1990–2008). Then in their infancy, computer-aided design programs let him print clumsy, pixelated lines which he blended with painted mark-making on his canvases.
Born in Krefeld, Germany in 1954, Oehlen studied under Sigmar Polke at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg from 1978 to 1981. As part of the raucous, post-punk art scene that surrounded Max Hetzler’s gallery in Cologne, he became associated with the loose avant-garde cohort known as the Junge Wilde (Young Wild Ones).
Alongside his close friend Martin Kippenberger, Oehlen gained a reputation as an enfant terrible, adopting the style of ‘bad painting’ that was popular amongst his contemporaries. Unapologetically outlandish, he delighted in crudely depicted figures, purposely overloaded compositions and fleshy, garish colour palettes.
Oehlen’s large, colourful abstract works of the late 1980s and early 1990s are among his most sought-after at auction, while enigmatic, playful figurative paintings, including those from his rare self-portrait series, also command major prices.
Through his eclectic and endlessly experimental output, Oehlen has established himself as one of the most cutting-edge artists of his generation. He continues to push boundaries today, breaking down painting to its basic components and building it anew.