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Albert Oehlen

Albert Oehlen

Albert Oehlen

About

As an art lover, you may still need to become familiar with the work of Albert Oehlen. He is a contemporary German artist known for pioneering a new style of abstract art that combines digital and traditional media. 

Throughout his decades-long career, Oehlen's style has evolved through several complex phases. His early paintings were colourful and expressive, but in the 1980s, his work took a stark turn toward black-and-white Minimalism. In recent years, Oehlen has embraced digital tools and multimedia installations. However, his art always retains a rebellious and provocative tone.

Oehlen came of age amid the revolutionary spirit of 1960s Germany. He became central to the German art scene after studying at art academies in Hamburg and Berlin. Today, his large-scale paintings sell for millions and have been exhibited in major museums worldwide.

While Oehlen's work may be challenging or even off-putting to some, his impact on contemporary art must be balanced. By forging his artistic path, Oehlen has created a legacy as an innovator who never stopped experimenting. His life's work inspires us, reminding us of the power of unbridled creativity.

This article will explore Oehlen's artistic evolution, influences, techniques, and place in contemporary art. Prepare to discover the fascinating life's work of this pioneering artist.

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Surname: Oehlen

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Albert Oehlen BIOGRAPHY

Albert Oehlen
Image Credit: MoMA

Early Life and Education: Albert Oehlen’s Upbringing in Germany

Where was Albert Oehlen Born?

Oehlen was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1954, to a family of musicians. His father was an organist and composer, while his mother was a pianist. Oehlen grew up surrounded by music and art. As a child, he took piano and organ lessons from his father and showed an early aptitude for art.

Oehlen’s creative talents were nurtured from an early age. He attended art school in his teens at the Folkwangschule in Essen, Germany, where he was exposed to various artistic styles and media. During this time, Oehlen experimented with abstract and expressive painting styles influenced by German Expressionism. He cultivated an interest in pushing the boundaries of traditional painting.

In the 1970s, Oehlen studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, a prestigious art academy that taught conceptual and experimental art practices. There, he came into contact with like-minded artists from the German art movement Neue Wilde, who embraced spontaneity, expressiveness, and rebelliousness. Oehlen’s paintings from this era feature gestural brushstrokes, surreal and absurdist imagery, and references to pop culture.

After completing his studies, Oehlen moved to Hamburg, Germany, where he lived for several years. During this formative period, he developed friendships with pioneering German artists like Martin Kippenberger, Markus Oehlen, and Georg Herold. Together, they explored new directions in painting that challenged established styles and rejected the austerity of Minimalism. Oehlen’s early life and education in Germany shaped his subversive and innovative artistic vision.


What is Albert Oehlen known for?

Albert Oehlen
Image Credit: Mutual Art

Albert Oehlen was a great artist who pushed the boundaries of contemporary art through his experimental and thought-provoking paintings. His early work incorporated elements of Neo-Expressionism, incorporating gestural brushstrokes, intense colours and abstracted figurative forms. However, Oehlen grew bored with the constraints of traditional painting. He began incorporating collage-like elements, photographs, and text into his paintings in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Career highlights

Albert Oehlen
Image Credit: Galleries Now

Who is Albert Oehlen Influenced by?

As an artist known for continually evolving his style, Oehlen was influenced by several major art movements and artists throughout his career. 

Initially associated with the Neo-Expressionist movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Oehlen’s early paintings featured gestural brushstrokes, vivid colours, and abstracted figurative forms that recalled Expressionism’s energetic and dynamic qualities. Artists such as Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz were influential during this period.

In the mid-1980s, Oehlen adopted a more Conceptual approach under the influence of artists like Martin Kippenberger and Rosemarie Trockel. His paintings explored the painting process and incorporated found images and objects. Oehlen began incorporating digital media, collage and photography into his art.

In the 1990s, Oehlen was associated with a revival of abstraction. His abstract paintings combined gestural, expressive brushwork with hard-edged geometry and a muted palette. The organic shapes and forms of Surrealists like Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró also influenced Oehlen’s biomorphic abstractions.


Style and Technique: The Evolution of Oehlen’s Distinctive Esthetic

Over his prolific career, Albert Oehlen has explored various types and pushed contemporary art’s boundaries. Early in his career, Oehlen worked in a gestural abstract style, using expressive brushstrokes and a muted colour palette. 

In the 1980s, he began incorporating collage and printmaking techniques into his large-scale abstract paintings. Oehlen combined cut fragments of his photographs, mass media images, and propaganda into chaotic collages.

In the 1990s, Oehlen began experimenting, working with computer-generated shapes, spray paint, and a brighter, more vibrant colour palette. His paintings from this era feature biomorphic shapes, gestural markings, and drips against a neon background. Oehlen also began incorporating figurative elements into his abstract compositions, including cartoonish outlines of trees, houses, and human figures.

Oehlen’s bold experimentation with styles, techniques, and subjects over 40 years of work has established him as a pioneering contemporary artist. His paintings demonstrate a lifelong commitment to expanding the possibilities of abstract art. Oehlen’s oeuvre reflects the evolution of his complex and deeply intellectual esthetic that continues to challenge viewers and push the boundaries of contemporary abstraction.


Albert Oehlen List of Work

Albert Oehlen
Image Credit: Punkt

Significant Works: Oehlen’s Most Famous Paintings

Over his prolific career spanning four decades, Albert Oehlen has produced an extensive body of work, including paintings, drawings, collages, and prints. 

Some of his most well-known creations are his abstract paintings from the 1980s, characterized by gestural brushstrokes, crude shapes, and a rebellious attitude toward traditional artistic conventions.

Two of Oehlen’s seminal works from this era are: 

1988

Ohne Titel (Untitled)

These large-scale paintings feature a chaotic array of markings, scribbles, and smears in a riot of colours, reflecting the artist’s attempts to liberate painting from the constraints of figuration and meaning. These works were featured in Oehlen’s first major solo exhibition, “Painting into the 90s,” at the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland.

1989

Ohne Titel (Untitled)

1981

“Too Late”

It features crudely drawn genitalia and scatological references. Oehlen wanted to undermine the elitism of the art world by embracing vulgarity and irreverence.

 

In the 1990s and 2000s, Oehlen began incorporating collage and digital media into his painting practice. Key pieces from this period include:

2007

OK, Aller Anfang ist schwer (Every Beginning is Difficult)

These works demonstrate Oehlen’s continuous experimentation with new materials to push the boundaries of contemporary painting.

2011

Untitled

  


Exhibitions

Oehlen’s mid-career retrospective at the New Museum in New York City in 2015-2016 highlighted the restless creativity that has defined his artistic output. Spanning nearly 150 works from all periods of his career, the exhibit showcased Oehlen’s prolific experimentation across mediums and his pivotal role in revitalizing abstract painting. Hailed as one of his generation’s most influential European artists, Oehlen continues to produce new work that tests the limits of painting and challenges viewers’ expectations.


What Mediums does Albert Oehlen Use?

In the 1990s, Oehlen moved into a “post-non-representational” painting phase. These abstract works experimented with gesture, colour, and the physicality of painting. Oehlen employed techniques to remove the artist’s hand, such as using a paint roller, stencils, or splattering paint onto the canvas. 


Legacy and Impact: How Oehlen Pushed Boundaries in Contemporary Art?

Oehlen’s fearless experimentation and irreverent attitude made him a pioneering contemporary art figure. His paintings pushed the boundaries of abstraction, incorporating new techniques and confronting uncomfortable themes. 

Oehlen’s lasting impact will be his challenge to the conventions of “good” taste and his expansion of the possibilities of abstract painting. His groundbreaking work shaped the development of conceptual and abstract art over the last 40 years. Oehlen’s legacy lives on in the creation of contemporary artists embracing experimentation, abstraction, and the confrontation of social taboos.


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