Closely associated with the Cologne art scene, Oehlen was a member of the Lord Jim Lodge, along with Martin Kippenberger among others. His art is related to the Neue Wilde movement. He has more recently been described as a ‘free radical’.
Influenced by other German painters such as Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, Oehlen focuses on the process of painting itself. During the 1980s he began combining abstract and figurative elements of painting in his works, as part of a reaction to the prevailing Neo-Expressionist aesthetic of the time. In the following years, he worked within self-imposed, often absurd, parameters. He used only gray tones for his “Grey” paintings and limited himself to red, yellow, and blue for another series of what he calls “bad” paintings that included his infamous 1986 portrait of Adolf Hitler. In his paintings of the late 1990s, each piece consists of smears and lines of paint Oehlen brushed and sprayed over collaged imagery that had been transferred to canvas by the type of gigantic inkjet printers used to manufacture billboards.
In 2002, Oehlen exhibited the “Self-Portraits” series which included eight self-portraits among them Frühstück Now (Self-Portrait)(1984), Self-Portrait With Open Mouth (2001) and Self-Portrait as a Dutch Woman (1983).
In Oehlen’s recent work, flat, figurative cut-outs-all the products of computer-aided design (CAD), and gestural strokes of oil paint trade places in the service of collage. In his recent Finger Paintings, color-blocked advertisements are an extension of the canvas, providing fragmented, readymade surfaces for Oehlen’s visceral markings, made with his hands, as well as brushes, rags, and spray-cans.
In 2014 Skarstedt Gallery, New York hosted Oehlen’ “Fabric Paintings” exhibition, featuring fourteen of the twenty paintings made from 1992 to 1996, and mostly kept in his studio. In 2015 Oehlen had his first major New York exhibition, “Albert Oehlen: Home and Garden” at the New Museum of Contemporary Art a self-portraits selection from 1980s and 1990s.