Action not words: “We cannot wait for great paintings to be painted, we have to do something about it”, so said Sigmar Polke, arguably one of Germany’s greatest contemporary painters. And he turned his words into action and painting himself into pole position on the the world's top 100 best artists lists.
The many faces of Sigmar Polke: Polke is probably one of the wittiest, one of the most restless and certainly one of the most difficult to comprehend of all contemporary artists. His multi-faceted works do not easily slot into any existing category of art interpretation, they inhabit a realm of their own. Being out-of-the-ordinary has not been a hindrance to Sigmar Polke’s fame. His demanding art scooped up accolades from an early age. At 25 he was awarded the Baden-Baden Youth Art Prize. Nine years laterthe San Paulo’s City Prize; 1982 Berlin’s Will Grohmann Prize; 1984 Kurt Schwitters Prize; 1986 The Golden Lion Award of Venice’s Biennale and so on and so on. Polke long belongs to the league of the “art world’s best”.
Polke’s Phantom: Far from basking in his achievement, the Cologne-based artist actively shunned his audience. He was rarely seen and rarely heard, Polke prefered to selectively answer telephone calls, as well as knocks on his door. Letters and faxes were disregarded and while he politely declined his invitation to Germany’s Documenta 8, the invitation to Documenta 10 he completely ignored. Polke nonplused his collectors with his seemingly “phantom” existence. Never-the-less the works in “Polke” exhibitions consistently had rashes of “sold out” stickers before they officially opened. Even paintings not painted could also be reserved and bought.
Capital Realism: Sigmar Polke (1941 - 2010), was born into in Oels, Silesia. He arrived aged 12 Berlin, then moved to Düsseldorf where he trained as a glass painter. From 1961-1967 he studied at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf under Gerhard Hoehme and Karl-Otto Götz. It was in Düsseldorf that Polke met Germany’s other great contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. Together Polke and the nine years older Richter created “Capital Realism” a short-lived art style drawing inspiration from daily life (as Pop-Art), but was heavily loaded with parodies on socialist realism.
“I am a dot”: From the beginning it was clear that Polke’s way was to bewilder his public. In 1966 (with Richter) he provocatively uttered, “Paintings should be painted according to a recipe. Painting is not an artistic act!” This sentence possibly reveals the seed of his signature “Grid” paintings, one of two central themes of Polke’s creativity. Paradoxically though, Polke’s grids follow no set scheme. They are painterly applied on the canvas dot for dot. Commenting on his life-long spot obsession, Polke ironically said “I love dots, all of them. I’m married to dots and I want them all to be happy. They’re my siblings. I’m also a dot”.
Polke the Alchemist: Polke did not stop there. On another occasion Polke went as far as saying he simply painted “per remote” instructions from "higher beings". Rational or irrational irony, Polke has showed throughout his career a remarkable ability of interpreting old themes with new and often experimental methods. Since the eighties Polke became fascinated with untried substances. More and more, his few visitors commented, his atelier looked less like a painter’s studio but rather a wizard’s laboratory.
Calculated Chance: While his latest works were reminiscent of informal painting, Polke’s “by accident” technique is “calculated chance”. He used it purposely to enhance his colours. Not content to conjure up the same “recipe”, Polke relentlessly pushed and probed. But a new Polke remains a Polke. Even his “controlled chance” carries the unmistakeable signature of the master.
Polke's Greatness: Polke’s greatness lies in his ability to continually confront the art world with a different slant of his personality. Just as the artist Polke remained elusive, so the Polke’s art work will not be pinned down. Testing, exploring, simply moving on.
Copyright© Andrea Haumer Lifeart.net 2016