Albert Oehlen's dynamic oeuvre examines the basic principles of painting. He began his artistic career in the late 1970s, when the medium was presumed obsolete; prompted by this critical detachment, Oehlen explored the belief that painting could be brought back to relevance by the act of painting itself. By the 1990s, Oehlen's focus had changed from the figurative to one of modernist painting's greatest legacies: abstraction. In the manner of Sigmar Polke, Oehlen engaged the history of modernist painting directly-adapting, jumbling, and subsequently dismantling its rules and precepts to embrace the sense of punk and anti-authoritarianism that he shared with his friend and fellow artist Martin Kippenberger.
Oehlen's "post-non-representational" abject abstractions are made manifest in rich, diverse application methods and a singular frenetic palette. Critic and curator Hamza Walker describes Oehlen's canvases as "representing a chorus of contradictory gestures; figuration is set against abstraction, form against anti-form, the rhythm of pattern versus a meandering stroke, and a muddy mix of colors juxtaposed against vibrant pigment straight from the tube...Oehlen's paintings are always autonomous in so far as they have managed to eliminate through contradiction an allegiance to any particular style" (Exh. Cat., Albert Oehlen: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, 1999). In works such as Untitled, Oehlen loads the picture plane with a deluge of visual expression in an exaggeration of traditional painterly narrative; working from a set of self-imposed guidelines, he coaxes abstracted, conflated imagery from his ostensibly informal gestures. In Untitled, swaths of amethyst, aqua, and chestnut, smeared and brushed onto the canvas, form a dynamic palimpsest. Disparate compositional and stylistic elements-once united-clamor for attention, each undulating with individual promise. Prismatic and rebellious in its sumptuous, formal depths, Untitled is a pristine early example by a great L'enfant terrible of contemporary painting.