Sigmar Polke
Germany, 1941
Germany, 2010
In a painting from 1969, Sigmar Polke predicted that his Polkes gesammelte Werke [Polke’s Complete Works] would span seventeen volumes. Today, forty-five years on—during which time he worked incessantly until his lamented death in 2010—we can safely say that they would run to several more if they were to also include his work’s enlightened influence on western artists working during the last four decades. As Klaus Honnef has said, “Polke is one of the truly key figures in contemporary art.” At the age of 12, Polke and his family left East Germany and settled in West Germany, which brought about a huge change in his visual universe. “I think that from that moment on,” infers Kevin Power, “Polke was aware that reality is a fiction, that it’s something ‘invented’. Polke had two ‘films’ in his head and believed neither. Images lie and some do so consistently.” The first technique he learnt was painting on glass and immediately afterwards he studied fine art in Düsseldorf. At the city’s Kunstakademie he met Joseph Beuys, who would have a major influence on his idea of art. He had his first exhibition in 1966 alongside Gerhard Richter, with whom he would share political and aesthetical interests for many years. His work is dominated by painting, but he also made forays into sculpture and always carried a camera with him, even though he hardly ever exhibited his photographs. He was a true master who explored every inch of the most diverse and even dangerous areas, including the use of poisons as pigments or parts of a painting. In his paintings, the amalgam of different images and techniques aims to shake up people’s conscience in the face of the contemporary visual world and at the same time encourage a critical, ironic and sarcastic rereading of past ideals or contemporary-art discourses. German Forest, 1982-1984, is a painting from the second stage of the three major phases in his career, between the early and mid eighties, when he cut back his ideological commitment to centre more on the painted image, and also made his first use of printed fabrics as background patterns for his painting. Mephisto (1988), with its clear footprints on the background of the canvas, and the impressive Triptyque, from the following year, are superb, meaningful pieces from his exploration of the alchemy of painting materials; the second makes masterful use of lacquers.
Mariano Navarro