Damaged Motif
Original title: Motiv kaputt
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 290 x 260 cm
Reference: ACF0510
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Although the figure has always been the foundation of Baselitz’s painting, it is clear that in the early 1990s he had turned his attention from it and become fascinated by the creative possibilities of colour, line and brushstroke on the surfaces of his pictures. The resulting works are the clearest expression of the concept of ornament that he always stressed when defining his painting—a contentious concept today, but one that he uses to emphasise his interest in painting as form rather than an expression of a narrative content. The figures in these works are intertwined with backgrounds rich in increasingly expressive shades. Background and figure are of equal importance and form a dense web of extremely seductive formal effects. As in the work entitled Roter Arm, the figures have no recognisable identity because they have undergone a gradual stylisation, becoming quite transparent, though this transparency does not prevent us from seeing a sumptuous background, subtly modulated by vibrant brushstrokes of colour. In Roter Arm the green figure with the bright red arm is in the lower part of the painting beneath a black grid that structures the whole composition. This powerful grid, which does not produce any feeling of confinement, even though it is superimposed on the figure, nevertheless creates an impressive tension on the white background, which Baselitz has painted so sensitively with a network of grey brushstrokes and a few touches of green and blue. But the tension grows when we realise that the black marks are the artist’s footprints, left as he walked over that marvellous background. In that decade, he often left his footprints on the works he painted. Originally he did so as a result of his work method, which involved placing the canvas on the floor, but later it became a deliberate gesture to mark his passing, to bear witness to his presence in the process of creating the work. Curiously, as Kevin Power has pointed out, as the figures become thinner the artist’s physical presence and personality in the work become stronger. Baselitz increasingly used his own body for painting, as shown by the prints of his shoes in this picture. Motiv kaputt is very similar in terms of composition, but extraordinarily significant because of the fall of the central motif. The figure has disappeared, been eliminated, or perhaps it has been hidden beneath the intense brushstrokes that form the background. He has abandoned the theme he was following and left only a few emotive scraps of its presence floating in space, enough to ensure that we do not forget that there was a motif in the painting. With that gesture, he reminds us that, though abstraction has gained a good deal of ground in his work, his painting never abandons figuration. It may not have been so important to see it in the work, but its presence remains alive, especially in the composition. Moreover, the fall of the motif is undoubtedly the greatest confirmation of the independence of his painting from any kind of expressive content. He has made it clear that what he is interested in is the painting as object, not the object of the painting. In short, with that masterly gesture he affirms that the aim of painting is painting itself.

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