A. R. Penck
Germany, 1939
As a young child, Ralf Winckler was deeply affected by the intense bombardments his city suffered during the Second World War. He was almost completely self-taught and his early interests soon encompassed visual arts, music and the study of political ideas. As a constantly evolving, temperamental artist, his work as a whole undergoes changes in style and subject matter approximately every five years. In 1966 he joined the Verband Bildender Künstler Deutschlands, the East German artists’ union; his expulsion three years later marked his break with official schools of thought on art. In 1968 he adopted the pseudonym A.R. Penck. During this time he created the group of paintings that bear the generic title Standart, a play on words juggling the terms art, model and standard; the last term refers to the originally medieval insignia featuring coats of arms and emblems used by civil, military and religious organisations to identify themselves. In these paintings, Penck used simple visual symbols to make a positive critique of socialism. He took part in Documenta 5 in 1972, as well as the following two editions, which enabled him to meet artists and thinkers who were little known in East Germany at the time. From this year onwards, his paintings started to feature a series of characters (Mike Hammer, Tancred Mitchell, Theodore Marx or simply TM) who, much like an alter ego, served as tools to help him study the world and himself. In 1975 his work was exhibited at the Kunsthalle in Bern and in Berlin, the first official recognition of his work in his country. In 1979, frustrated at only being able to work with government-approved artistic institutions, he emigrated to West Germany. In the following years his work was included, alongside that by other artists, in the New German Painting movement, which featured in several group exhibitions, including A New Spirit in Painting (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1981) and Zeitgeist (Martin-Gropius-Bau, West Berlin, 1982), and had a major impact on the evolution of art in the first half of the eighties. His work has since been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries. He currently lives and works in Dublin and Düsseldorf.
Ferran Barenblit