Georg Baselitz

Counting among his influences Art Brut, Art Informel, and Abstract Expressionism, as well as artists Edvard Munch and Wassily Kandinsky, German artist Georg Baselitz’s work is characterized by expressionistic mark-making and unrefined, even grotesque, figurative depiction. Working in painting, drawing, printmaking, and monumental wood sculpture, Baselitz often addresses issues related to German national identity post-World War II, particularly the role of German artists. Along with Anselm Kiefer, Baselitz was chosen to represent Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale, exhibiting a monumental wooden sculptural figure that appeared to be making a Nazi salute, causing an eruption of controversy and bringing the question of contemporary German identity to the fore. Baselitz is closely associated with fellow artists A.R. Penck and Eugen Schöenbeck, who demonstrate similar stylistic tendencies and emphasis on subject matter rather than strict abstraction.

Painter, sculptor, graphic artist

Georg Baselitz was born as Hans-Georg Kern in 1938 in Deutschbaselitz, Germany.

He is well known for his figurative, expressive paintings and has become an iconic member of the German neo-expressionist movement.

Baselitz’s numerous solo exhibitions include those held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2007), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, Naples (2008), Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2009), Pinacoteca, São Paulo (2010), Albertina, Vienna (2013), and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014).

He has been featured at the Venice Biennale twice (1980, 2019) and is currently being exhibited at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

Georg Baselitz’s child hood was characterised by the suffering and demolition of World War II. The influence of destruction, nationalism and socio-political anguish continues to be a significant influence in his work.

Baselitz grew up in East Germany, later to become the GDR. Both his youth and early artistic career were conditioned by stringent socio-political codes against which he chafed. This struggle was ultimately to shape and determine his artistic career: Baselitz was sent down from the Academy of Art in East Berlin (where he was studying painting,1956) after only two terms for “socio-political immaturity”. It was this that caused him to apply to the Academy in West Berlin where he eventually graduated with a masterclass in 1963.

In the late 60’s, Baselitz made a series of efforts to make a shift from representational, content driven work to what would become an iconic, daring, expressive painting style. Bazelitz considers this transition to be a direct response to the tumult of his up-bringing. In an oft-cited interview with Donald Kuspit in Artforum 33 (no. 10, Summer 1995, p. 76), Bazelitz famously stated “I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I had seen enough of so-called order. I was forced to question everything, to be ‘naive’, to start again.”

Aside from his bold, emotive and striking painting style, Baselitz’s most defining artistic characteristic has become his practice of inverting his paintings. The artist began the practise in 1969 in an attempt to break with the artistic codes that he felt he had, to a degree, internalised. By rotating the painting 180 degrees after completion, Bazelitz sought to re-focus the viewer on the pure pictorial merits of the painting and to emphasise the abstract qualities of the composition. Through this practice, Baseltiz was able to stresses the artifice of painting along with the artifice of artistic and political rules alike.

The trial proof for the ‘Adler’ portfolio (featured), is a good example of this inversion: the eagle (or, Adler) has been driven downwards, mid-flight, resulting in a capsized composition. The flicks of paint that would originally have conveyed an upwards kinetic energy are forced downwards.

The composition has an arresting top-heaviness that seems to defy gravity. The result is visually quite unusual: anti-logical, almost illogical. This is highly indicative of Baselitz’s philosophy of transgression.

The Reichsadler (“Imperial Eagle”) is featured on Germany’s coat of arms and serves as its national animal. The bird is a symbol of patriotism and allegiance to the state as well as, more universally, being associated with freedom. By choosing this symbol for his inversion, Baselitz’s statement is clear.

In his Adler series, Basellitz not only breaks optical, cultural and academic boundaries but also goes against the grain of his ‘revolutionary’ contemporaries. Although rebelling against the academic rules of painting was mainstream by the 1970’s, Baselitz’s work continued to stand out by channelling an expressionist paining style rather than following the conceptual art trend.

The featured study is of particular interest due to the use of a wood-block print to act as the base for his Fingermalerie (finger-paining). Firstly, Baselitz has had an affinity with wood blocks after first encountering Chiaroscuro woodcuts on a trip to Italy as a young artist. He went on to become an avid collector of these significant prints, many of which were later exhibited by the RA in their exhibition ‘Renaissance Impressions’.

Secondly, the juxtaposition of the wood-block print with the fluid, intuitive finger-art creates an interesting tension within the work between the reproducible and the original. Baselitz takes a clinical medium and is compelled to handle it, working it into a visceral expression. The exhibited trial proof beautifully serves to merge the spontaneous and the reproducible, eloquently conveying that which is at the heart of the artist’s process.

Notable exhibitions:

– the documenta 5 and 7 in 1972 and 1982,
– the Venice Biennale in 1980 and 2019
– the Royal Academy’s influential ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ in 1981 and again in 2007,
– the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, Naples, 2008
– at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2009
– at the Pinacoteca, São Paulo, 2010
– Albertina, Vienna, 2013
– Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2014

Works