Zwirner & Wirth will present an exhibition of paintings and drawings created by Georg Baselitz at the beginning of his artistic career in the 1960s. These works demonstrate Baselitz's determination and marked interest in creating a new pictorial language, in a climate where abstraction was the only acceptable style in post-World War II Germany and where American "pop" iconography was swiftly filtering into Europe. Dissatisfied with his studies in West Berlin in the late 1950s, where Tachisme and Art Informel were the dominating styles, Baselitz traveled widely, discovering, in particular, the work of Gericualt, Moreau, Soutine, Guston and the late work of Picabia. His rigorous exploration of figuration and its evolution throughout this seminal decade is laid out in both the drawings and paintings in this exhibition.
"The essential is to make a new image, this requires a precision and clarity that admit no interpretations or associations" -Georg Baselitz
As early as 1960, the act of drawing became a vehicle for Baselitz to pursue what he called a new "motif," that is, an image that was free from any historical tradition. The drawing, freed from any associations, occupied an internal space within the artist's mind, where memories and dreams surfaced and where the act of inventing flourished. The two ink drawings, Ente (Duck) and Morgenstunde (Morning Hour), 1962, in their anthropomorphic distortions, demonstrate Baselitz's assimilation of popular surrealist writings, in particular those by Antonin Artaud. A similar form of stream-of-consciousness writing addled with obsessive sexual themes and provocative imagery can be found in Baselitz's first manifesto, "Pandemonium," of 1961. Such fascination with repellent imagery takes form in many of the early drawings where human genitalia morph into grotesquely dismembered stumps and roots pointing to a self-imposed physical and artistic isolation that Baselitz would occupy for most of the 1960s. In the 1963 ink drawing, Portrait of Antonin Artaud, the figure wields an erect phallus, a subversive symbol of creativity, displaying Baselitz's vehement anti-bourgeois sentiments.
In addition, Baselitz's fascination with the "art of the insane" popularized by Hans Prinzhorn in his book from 1923, fueled his exploration of themes and images that were liberated from the dominating "Greenbergian" color theories and non-objective art production of the preceding decade. In Die poetische Kugel (The Poetic Sphere), 1964, a human figure takes on an alien-like, organic form; a face and a female breast are placed into a floating embryonic double sphere. These figures inhabit a bizarre, Munch-like landscape populated by tiny fir trees, oversized mushrooms and miniature wooden crosses leading down an eerie, warped road.
This free-form anamorphosis, where figures are ferociously distorted, also stems from Baselitz's discovery of Italian Mannerism while studying in Italy. In Kind mit Enten (Child with Ducks), and Tierstück (Animal Piece) of 1964-65, the figure undergoes a radical reworking; children are morphed into amoeba-like forms, and from the dark recesses of Baselitz's inky webs emerge recognizable animal heads and body parts. In Peitschenfrau (Whipping Woman), 1964, the female figure is reduced to a provocative lump of belly and breasts, topped by a miniscule head. In his quest for "pure" drawing, Baselitz revisits traditional subject matter, intent on liberating them from any pre-ordained historical meaning. Memories of rural life in Saxony, and its images, take on a new formal structure where the artist's own personal perceptions are translated into visual terms. The object is able to successfully reinstate itself in this new formal world.
In attempting to strip figurative subject matter of all thematic content and historical references, Baselitz invents, in his Hero series, a new pathos in the single-figure composition. In the 1965 pencil drawing, Neuer Typ (New Guy), the figure is immobilized, yet dominant. He is symbolic of the obsessive isolation created by Baselitz at this time in his career as a result of several failed exhibitions and general public disdain for his work. The archetypal figure becomes both the hero and the anti-hero, the fallen soldier and the poet/painter. Baselitz's line attains a new freedom of execution, allowing the motif to be more thoroughly absorbed into the overall composition. In Mann und Hund abwärts (Man and Dog Downwards), 1966, the motifs are overpowered by a network of crosshatched lines and the dog is now inverted alongside the male figure.
In Zwei Streifen Kopf (Two-Stripe Head) and Doppelporträt (Double Portrait), also from 1966, a horizontal line divides the composition. In both works, the bust of a male figure is severed into a top and bottom format. This new "fracture" in the traditional composition also manifests itself in the painting Ein Stück Malerei (A Piece of Painting), 1966. The farm animal subject is again fractured by a horizontal line that slices the figures into two sections. This undoing of the normative figure/ground relationship brings Baselitz a step closer to emancipating the subject from any traditional notions of theme or content.
The tension between the figures and the act of painting is further developed in Die Kuh (The Cow), from 1968, a subject inspired by a similar painting by Van Gogh from 1890. In superimposing a second cow head above the central cow, Baselitz clearly shows that a figurative motif can be freely placed anywhere on the canvas, completely dispensing with any traditional notion of compositional structure. This new conceptual freedom allows Baselitz to finally move, in 1969, to his first inverted figures.