A.R. Penck, ‘Whale-Hunting’, 1991, Koller Auctions

In his painting "Whale Hunting", A.R. Penck (actually Ralf Winkler) broaches the subjects of whaling, species protection and the human-animal relationship with unusually clear imagery. A human – represented here by a stickman, which in its simplicity and archaism is reminiscent of early cave paintings, and which has become a kind of trademark of Penck's painting style since around 1963 – attacks the whale, much greater than him in size, with a raised spear. Penck also emphasises the man's aggression with a dominant red colour which stands in stark contrast to the dark mass of the whale’s body. Despite the clarity and recognisability of these scenes and symbolism, Penck’s interpretation is neither literal nor one-dimensional. A.R. Penck, who was a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1989 to 2003, does not tell a simple visual story but rather in dense composition, links the individual with the general to form a timeless reality. In much the same way as his stickmen recall early cave paintings and his choice of pseudonym is an ode to the famous ice age researcher and geologist Albrecht Penck (1885-1945), he addresses the balance between humans and nature, the interplay between humans and animals, the balance of power, the force of nature and its endangerment.

With his unmistakable style of abstracted figures and symbols, Penck creates a universal vocabulary in which the memory of the advent of painting merges with contemporary history and modern science to form a distinctive visual universe, as it does here in "Whale Hunting".

Signature: Signed lower left: ar penck.

Image rights: Courtesy of Koller Auktionen

Acquired from Galerie Lelong, Zurich, by the present owner in 1991 (with the label on the reverse). Since then privately owned Switzerland.

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