Sigmar Polke - Part 1

Sigmar Polke (1941 – 2010) was born in Oels, Silesia. In 1953 he moved from Thuringia to Düsseldorf where he began an apprenticeship as a glass-painter in 1959. Between 1961-1967 he studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy
Over the past 40 years Polke created complex works that have helped define the art of the time. In the 1960s he created a new and unique vision of German art, which during the postwar years had been largely derivative of gestural abstraction. During this time Polke began making his ‘dot’ paintings, manually executed parodies of the Benday dot screens used by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

1968 Don Quixote
 Although he shared visual ideas with American Pop artists, he was less concerned with appropriating the pictorial style of advertising than in depicting the desired objects of a consumer society. While at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1963, Polke and fellow students Konrad Lueg and Gerhard Richter consolidated their ideas of cultural criticism into a style they termed Capitalist Realism. The humorous and deliberately “unskilled” qualities of Polke’s earliest works formalized a critique of both Socialist Realism and Pop art.

1965 Liebespaar II
During the 1970s, Polke slowed his art production in favour of travel to Afghanistan, Brazil, France, Pakistan, and the U.S., where he shot photographs and film footage that he would incorporate in his subsequent works during the 1980s. Using materials such as sheer synthetic fabrics, coloured lacquers, and hydrosensitive chemicals in combination with paint, he began to self-consciously undermine the conventions of painting and to challenge its appropriateness as a medium to comment on contemporary life.

Kathreiners Morgenlatte
Kathreiners Morgenlatte, with its layered composition incorporating fabric and painted imagery, is an example of this questioning. An image of a dull, domestic interior is superimposed over patterned swatches and clippings culled from the mass media, creating a formal metaphor for the complex layering of ideas found in postmodernism. To underscore his “destruction” of the traditional easel painting, Polke has apparently taken the wooden stretcher, cut it up and strewn the pieces over the surface of the work. Inverting his own name but signing ‘Henri Matisse’ right side up, Polke ironically comments on the presumed necessity of including an accepted sign of high modernism in order to guarantee the authenticity and value of an artwork. By reconciling a complex group of references in Kathreiners Morgenlatte, Polke presents a critique of the condition of the artist and the impossibility of a sustained originality in contemporary art in the late 20th century.

The anarchistic element of the work Polke developed was largely engendered by his mercurial approach. His irreverence for traditional painting techniques and materials and his lack of allegiance to any one mode of representation has established his now-respected reputation as a visual revolutionary.

1981-93 Paganini
Paganini, an expression of "the difficulty of purging the demons of Nazism" - witness the "hidden" swastikas - is typical of Polke's tendency to accumulate a range of different mediums within one canvas. It is not unusual for Polke to combine household materials and paint, lacquers, pigments, screen print and transparent sheeting in one piece. A complicated "narrative" is often implicit in the multi-layered picture, giving the effect of witnessing the projection of a hallucination or dream through a series of veils.
Sigmar Polke died in 2010 in Cologne. There will be further examples of Polke's work in the next post.

1964 Two Palm trees

1965-66 Freundinnen

1966 Woman at the Mirror

1968 Heron Painting II

1971-73 Zwei Kopfe

1973 Original + Fälschung

1976 Kandinsdingsda (Wir Kleinbürger)

1982 Hannibal with his Armoured Elephants

1982 Magnetic Landscape

1982 This is how you Sit Correctly (After Goya)

1983 Lingua tertii Imperii

1986 Audacia

1987 B-mode

1988 Nude

1989 Untitled

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