A.R. Penck, ‘Untitled’, 1973, Phillips

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From the Catalogue:
‘This is a big word, violence, but for art (and in particular painting and sculpture) to continue to exist in the brave new world of explosive electronic imagery, such aggression is necessary, in content and manufacture….The behaviour of Penck’s art is certainly brash and boisterous and aggressive. That is why, somehow, he has been one of our great tough and unconventional contemporaries who, just by being there, has paved the way for some of our younger ones such as Damien Hirst and Julian Schnabel’. (Rudi Fuchs in A. R. Penck, Die Achtziger Jahre, exh. cat., Julius Werner, Berlin, 23 February – 27 March 2008, n.p.)
A.R. Penck, one of Germany's most celebrated artists, utilised an iconic primal, semi-abstract style which has made his simple yet confrontational imagery instantly recognizable on an international stage. Within the artists of the Neue Wilden movement, who found motivation in mythology, figuration and bright, brash tones, Penck’s continued use of intense colour and hasty, broad brushstrokes set him apart from dominant avant-garde aesthetics.

From the onset Penck set himself apart, pursuing an intense interest in developing a system to unite art and language whilst addressing complex socio-political themes. His childhood preoccupation with science fiction encouraged a deeper reading into the workings and implications of information theories and cybernetics. Subsequently, this concern began to be reflected in his prolific output of work and the stick figure, recognisable in many of his paintings, became a motif of a new system of communication that combined text, symbol and image. The primitive, innovative and cave-like drawings challenged and unsettled notions about the nature of modernist contemporary art. Herewith Penck activated a new and exciting attempt to destabilise the censorship he had faced from the German Democratic Republic.

The following selection of works, executed throughout the 1970s and 1980s, offers an insight into Penck’s unswerving preoccupation with what became known as Standart; a fake alphabet of sorts that the artist himself designed.

The loose capricious configuration of curving lines and figures of Belagerung und Einnahme Von Beirut I at first appear random and confused, yet Penck employed them with such clarity and vigour that they expressively work beyond the specifics of narrative. The hectic swaying movement of tall, elongated stick figures is surrounded by various objects and crudely rendered animals, pictograms and calligraphic squiggles, tumbling and plunging across the canvas, many of them inverted. The motion captured within the painting conjures monumental energy; the hidden, arcane references elude the spectator whilst rousing a sense of familiarity. Whilst the execution of the paintings may appear fairly rough, as Penck’s sense of conviction grew so did the boldness of his work. In both Untitled works, the bold brushstrokes and expressive shapes sit affront the dimensionality of the canvas whilst the stick figures engulf the picture, growing stronger and more powerful. The sense of movement within each painting becomes almost fevered as the figures wildly jump, dance or fight. Penck delicately dismantles the mysteries of preconceived notions of artistic creation; the washes of vibrant greens, reds, blues and blacks in Untitled are added in violent, almost explosive bursts.

Charismatic and dynamic, the present works are highly communicative. In devising suggestive narrative scenes, the present selection spanning a decade of the artist’s oeuvre attempts to find a universal language - one that could address the trauma, sadness, and loss that followed the Second World War whilst also affecting viewers beyond Germany. Reviving painting as a crucial practice for communication, Penck has become synonymous with a painting style that is figurative whilst fuelled with relevant social and political content, a style both gestural and replete with semiotic impact. His figures, seemingly from a prehistoric space in time, are fused with concerns of contemporary society, creating a selection of works that continue to be as socially relevant as when they were first made.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed 'ar. penck' lower left

Galerie Kunstraum Angermund, Dusseldorf
Private Collection, Rome

About A.R. Penck

Considered a Neo-Expressionist along with artists such as Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer, A.R. Penck is best known for his paintings and sculptures characterized by simplified figures and forms, and neo-primitive symbols and patterns. Born Ralf Winkler, the artist adopted his pseudonym after reading the work of the geologist Albrecht Penck. A.R. Penck lived in East Berlin from 1963 to ’72; unable to exhibit there publicly, he smuggled works out to West Berlin and Switzerland, where he enjoyed enough fame to provide him some protection from the German police. Penck’s style fused spontaneous self-expression with restraint, and pop cultural and art historical influences with political and social concerns. As a sculptor, he was constructing objects as early as the ’60s made from cardboard boxes, slats, used bottles, and tinfoil and later, in the ’80s, he made sometimes-monumental wooden sculptures. Penck was also a jazz musician and published theoretical writings, sometimes juxtaposing or interspersing them with poems. He worked collaboratively at various times with the West German artist Jorg Immendorff.

German, 1939-2017, Dresden, Germany

Group Shows

Bildfindung - Finding the Image
Exhibition hall Arsenals, 
Riga, Latvia,
German Art Since The Late 1960s
Latvian National Museum of Art, 
Riga, Latvia,
Wahlverwandtschaften, Deutsche Kunst seit den späten 1960er Jahren
Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, 
Augsburg, Germany,
Aufruhr in Augsburg. Deutsche Malerei der 1960er bis 1980er Jahre
Haus der Kunst, 
Munich, Germany,
Geniale Dilletanten. Subkultur der 1980er Jahre in Deutschland
Saarbrücken, Germany,
20 Jahre Mauerfall – 20 deutsche Maler
Museum of Modern Art, 
New York, NY, USA,
An International Survey of Recent Painting and Scultpure
The Tate Gallery, 
London, UK,
New Art at the Tate Gallery
View Artist's CV