Markus Oehlen has been experimenting with visual art, in addition to music, since the late 70s, and throughout his career, coming from his early punk influences, there has been a consistent desire to create a subversive and enigmatic visual art. Notably as part of Neue Wilden (German: The New Wild Ones), a neo-expressionist movement in the 80s which reacted to the neatness of Conceptual art and Minimalism by instead introducing vivid colors, raw brushstrokes, bizarre materials and generally unpolished aesthetics.
Over the last forty years, Oehlen has never stopped trying to reinvent painting – with the rebellious cardinal virtues intact. It is essential for him that his work continues to develop. From each work of art to the other, his process, materials, motif worlds, and so on, are updated. An element that stands out in one image is transferred to the next in a more dominant form.
With an approach reminiscent of what sampling is for music, each of Oehlen’s paintings is characterized by very different forms of expression. Like a distorted jumble of motifs from art history, popular culture, random imagery and whatever else one may encounter in a visually oversaturated world, an Oehlen work flickers before the eyes like an unsolvable puzzle.
For Oehlen, emphasis is not put on that he paints, but rather on that he constructs a painting. And this subtle distinction means that the motifs also become materials. The indeterminacy, the battle between the visual ingredients, after all, gets a pinch of recognizability: a disco ball, a face, a flower veiled in shiny furrows, so that it almost gets a quality akin to that of a faulty VHS tape.
This complex chaos is not exactly ruled by randomness and chance, however. In fact, there are several parts of these paintings that aren’t paintings at all, but illusions. In sections of each work, Oehlen plays with the fact that there is no paint on the canvas. Instead, a dense print is filled like a collage and is applied varnish with a large comb. It takes experience to elaborate something so intricate. Throughout his career, Markus Oehlen has put the implicitly undesirable to the test, and while the days of punk, provocation and shock effects have come to an end a long time ago, Oehlen’s subversive aesthetics and relentless eagerness to explore, expand and confront have never stopped.
Markus Oehlen (b. 1956, Krefeld, Germany) lives and works in Munich, Germany, where he has been a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts since 2002. He has works in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Saint Louis Art Museum, Sammlung zeitgen ssischer Kunst der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Kunsthalle Weishaupt and others.
Selected shows include exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; a duo exhibition with Albert Oehlen at the Museum Abteiburg, Mönchengladbach, Germany; Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; and at the ZKM Center for for Arts and Media Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany.