Markus Oehlen

born in 1956 in Krefeld, Germany; lives in Munich


1971–1973: Apprenticeship as a technical draftsman

1976–1982: Studies at Kunstakademie (Arts Academy) Düsseldorf under Alfonso Hüppi

1977–1987: Drummer in various German punk and new wave bands as well as his own music projects

Since 1977: First exhibitions of paintings and sculptures

Since 1982: Exhibitions at the galleries Max Hetzler (Stuttgart, Cologne, Berlin), Peter Pakesch (Vienna), Bärbel Grässlin (Frankfurt am Main), Hans Mayer (Düsseldorf), and Gerhardsen Gerner (Berlin/Oslo)

Since mid-1990s: Member of the band projects Jailhouse and Van Oehlen

Since 2002: Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Markus Oehlen’s first solo exhibition took place in 1977 at Konrad Fischer’s legendary art space in the Neubrückstraße in Düsseldorf. Other art shows followed quickly, often in the context of the »Neue Wilde« (New Wild) or the group surrounding his brother, Albert Oehlen, and Martin Kippenberger and Werner Büttner. Oehlen, who at the time was very aligned with the attitude of the nascent punk movement in Germany, kept his painting—just like the music of the time—purposely dark, coarse, and skeletal. Most of his abstract compositions primarily consist of multiple, incongruent, and in some cases radically divergent layers overlapping each other with sketch-like contours drawn with striking lines in the foreground. Over time, Oehlen began to experiment increasingly with figurative elements; however, their forms stubbornly remain no more than a hint. Later, graphic elements or items borrowed from media technology (such as painted picture grids, video lines, or moires) often appeared, which Oehlen included with a rough but integrative gesture in his canvases. His repertoire—which also includes painted sculptures that are both sprightly and deformed, frequently made of Styrofoam or an aluminum basis—has steadily expanded over the decades without losing its original punk inspiration.


Author: Christian Höller



Markus Oehlen encountered the budding German punk scene, which was part of the local Ratinger Hof context, as a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in 1977. He first played »Trommlung« for the short-lived group Deutschland Terzett and was then drummer with the groundbreaking Mittagspause. After two singles (1979), which are still viewed as milestones in the German post-punk scene, and the dissolution of Mittagspause, Oehlen pursued various music projects with a changing lineup. In addition to drums, he also played guitar and keyboards with the Vielleichtors, launching himself into the sluggish New Wave grooves. His »brilliantly dilettante« tendency to multi-instrumentalism was also apparent in his participation in the all-star project LSDAP/AO and Flying Klassenfeind (1981/82), which specialized in cover versions of pop classics, as did the artist LP project Die Rache der Erinnerung (The Revenge of Memory, 1984), supported by Oehlen. In 1985, he produced his first solo recorded single, Beer Is Enough, which was followed by more solo releases at irregular intervals under the pseudonym Don Hobby (1998) or with the electronic composition Wanne 4 (2015). Oehlen recorded the LP Lousy Days Are Here to Stay (1987) as Kurt Striebe with Werner Büttner before heading into electronic percussive free-form improvisation with his brother Albert in the bands Van Oehlen and Jailhouse (with Rüdiger Carl) in the 1990s.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Markus Oehlen

One and One, 1984, with Markus Oehlen (voc., guit., b., perc. sax., synth.), 3:17 min.

Film: Ute Kampmann

A production team in Hamburg (Ute Kampmann, Thomas Meins, Tim Renner) created the video magazine Für eine Handvoll D-Mark (For a Fistful of Deutschmarks), with four music clips they produced in 1984. In the Hungarian part moderated by Markus Oehlen, one sees the cover of »One & One is One,« originally a big hit by the English band Medicine Head in 1973. The cover version, which is also included in the artist record project Die Rache der Erinnerung (1984), is impressive with its persistently elaborate solo principle. Oehlen plays all instruments himself, with the different sounds faded into the psychedelic hatching of the constantly changing color settings. As if taking the song title literally, the solitarily strumming and rumbling musician doubles and triples and is, in the process, never quite »one« with himself, even though Oehlen’s outfit is in the same fabric pattern as the wallpaper-like background. Just as the instrumental tracks of the weird cover version seem to run asynchronously, the counterparts created with the video technology never quite line up. In short: a self-deconstructing, melting fantasy.


Christian Höller