Stick men, scrawls and all that jazz: how AR Penck made great art look simple | Art


In 1979, the Stasi entered Ralf Winkler’s Dresden studio and trashed the place. It was the end result of a harassment marketing campaign towards the artist, who discovered fame below the pseudonym AR Penck, for refusing to make social-realist propaganda.

As a substitute, his work featured oft-repeated hieroglyphs, odd symbols and indicators, seemingly child-like naive scrawls and simple stick males (usually with outsized penises). The authorities had been proper to be suspicious of this new painterly model: Penck sought the development of a brand new language, one that blended the linguistic and pictorial, that was each “common” and “democratic”. It was a want born of the trauma of the second world struggle, significantly witnessing the destruction of Dresden as a toddler, and the following dystopia of the German Democratic Republic.

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Penck’s visible language, which he termed “standart” is, on the floor at the very least, one that might be mastered by anybody. There’s a “constructing block system”, as he as soon as mentioned; a glossary of motifs to be picked out and performed with on a whim. In actual fact, few would convey the rhythm and lyricism that Penck, a jazz fan, delivered to the canvas. With their profusion of extensive eyes, humanoid types, beasts and birds, his work are suggestive of the actual world, however in addition they lean on theories of abstraction, wherein noughts, crosses and different symbols flirt throughout a piece’s floor with a satisfaction in pure painterly gesture.

Escaping his censors, Penck smuggled work to the west with the assistance of Cologne gallerist Michael Werner, whose gallery the artist labored with till his loss of life in 2017, and who now represents the Penck property. A brand new present at Werner’s London townhouse gallery traces the artist’s profession, from his starting to the worldwide stardom he finally discovered. Most accounts observe it was the Stasi raid that catalysed his defection in 1980 however, extra doubtless, the East Berlin regime offered the artist to their counterparts throughout the wall as a part of the profitable and extremely secret Häftlingsfreikauf programme, which allowed the GDR to usher in much-needed overseas foreign money and rid itself of mental troublemakers. Both method, for Penck, it got here as a reduction.

Settling in Cologne, the artist frolicked with Georg Baselitz, Jörg Immendorff, Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke, a gang the press dubbed the Neue Wilde – the Younger Savages. Extra formally, all through the Nineteen Eighties these artists developed neo-expressionism between them, a type of portray characterised by its tough emotional pull. Whereas Penck’s significance to this new style was confirmed by his look in key survey reveals, Zeitgeist on the Gropius Bau, Berlin, in 1982, and New Art on the Tate, London, a 12 months later, the artist’s supply materials reveals a extra nuanced set of references.

The science fiction Penck learn as a toddler whereas the RAF carpet-bombed Dresden remained an everlasting affect, whereas a set of not often seen textile sculptures, included within the new Werner exhibition, underline his pursuits in genetics, ecology, techniques idea and cybernetics. Along with his work, Penck sought to grasp how individuals, objects and concepts rubbed up towards one another, how ideas might be expressed past phrases and how a path out of the inherent battle of the world is perhaps mapped.

Go determine: 4 works by AR Penck

Untitled, 1966.
Untitled, 1966. {Photograph}: Michael Werner Gallery

Untitled, 1966

In one of many earliest works within the exhibition, the artist’s curiosity in techniques are on present. A person is seen selecting a fruit, earlier than he’s proven consuming and lastly defecating. Removed from demonstrating man’s divine supremacy over nature, his inner organs are diminished to nodes in a pure ecosystem.

tskrie VIII, 1984
tskrie VIII, 1984. {Photograph}: Michael Werner Gallery

tskrie VIII, 1984

Penck additionally hung out in London. The title of the most important work within the present is an anagram of “strike”, and is a homage to the miners’ wrestle. Regardless of the harassment he acquired in East Germany, Penck was sympathetic to socialism. “Every thing is paradox and schizophrenic … reactionary and progressive, decadent and fascistic,” he mentioned of his work’s politics. “So am I! So are you!”

Y, 1978
Y, 1978. {Photograph}: Michael Werner Gallery

Y, 1978

We are able to assume it is a self-portrait, although the stick man has no options. “Y” was certainly one of a variety of names Penck exhibited below (others embrace “Mickey Spilane” and “Theodor Marx”). Werner would arrive at his studio, dropping off forbidden music, books and, as Penck grew to become profitable, baggage of West German marks. In return he would smuggle out work signed below the fictional guises.

Reaktor, 1990
Reaktor, 1990. {Photograph}: Michael Werner Gallery

Reaktor, 1990

Penck needed youngsters to get pleasure from his work, regardless of its mental underpinnings. His felt sculptures are playful, however dozens of sketches included on this new present reveal that he designed the interconnecting tubes and balls with a molecular understanding of how people have altered the very constructing blocks of nature. This work was made 4 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe.

AR Penck: Systems – Felt Works and Paintings is on the Michael Werner gallery, London, to 19 February.