German Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor
Born: January 23, 1938 - Deutschbaselitz Germany
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"I begin with an idea, but as I work, the picture takes over. Then there is the struggle between the idea I preconceived... and the picture that fights for its own life."
Georg Baselitz was enormously influential in showing a generation of German artists how they might come to terms with issues of art and national identity in the wake of the Second World War. Briefly trained in the officially sanctioned Conceptual art, Pop, and Arte Povera, Baselitz revived the German Expressionism that had been denounced by the Nazis, and returned the human figure to a central position in painting. Controversial when he first emerged in 1963, and controversial again nearly two decades later when he began to produce sculpture, Baselitz inspired a revival of Neo-Expressionist painting in Germany in the 1970s, and his example gave encouragement to many more who took up similar styles both in Europe and the United States in the 1980s.of Communist East Berlin, he soon moved to West Berlin, and encountered abstract art. Ultimately, however, he was to reject both options. While others turned to
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Die grobe Nacht im Eimer (Big Night down the Drain) (1963)
Die grobe Nacht im Eimer or Big Night Down the Drain depicts a young boy, perhaps a self-portrait of the artist, holding an exaggerated phallus, and is one of Baselitz's most controversial paintings. It was inspired by an article about the Irish playwright Brendan Behan, who was a notorious drunk, and we might compare it to the many other images Baselitz later produced which depict the figure of the artist. During his first solo exhibition in 1963, at a Berlin gallery, the painting was seized by the public prosecutor's office for "infringement of public morality." The shocking subject was intended to encourage an awakening that Baselitz thought was necessary in a post-war Germany lulled into amnesia about its recent past. "I proceed from a state of disharmony, from ugly things," he once said, and this confrontation with ugliness was something he believed was necessary to confront the violence of twentieth century history.
Oil on canvas - Museum Ludwig, Cologne
Georg Baselitz was born Hans-Georg Kern on January 23, 1938 in Deutschbaselitz. His family lived in a flat above a schoolhouse where his father taught elementary students. The school was used as a garrison for soldiers during World War II and was later destroyed during frontline combat with the Russians while the family took refuge in the cellars beneath the building. It was in the school's library where Georg discovered pencil drawings made in the nineteenth century. This initial experience with art inspired Baselitz to create artwork himself. In 1949 he assisted wildlife photographer Helmut Drechsler on ornithological photo shoots, which led to Baselitz's later landscapes of the Saxony countryside, and inspired the painting, Wo ist der gelbe Milchkrug, Frau Vogel (Where is the Yellow Milkjug Mrs Bird?), a piece featuring upside-down yellow birds.
In 1950 Baselitz's family moved to Kamens where Georg attended high school. An original sized oleograph of Ferdinand von Rayski's painting Interlude During a Hunt in Wermersdorf Forest hung in the school drill hall, which greatly influenced Baselitz's later work, including his first inverted painting Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The Wood on its Head). Baselitz began to paint during his secondary education, inspired by Neue Sachlichkeit landscape artists. Although he was denied acceptance into the Art Academy in Dresden, he began to study painting under Herbert Behrens-Hangler in 1956 at the Academy of Visual and Applied Art in Weissensee, East Berlin. After attending classes for two terms, Baselitz was expelled on the grounds of "socio-political immaturity". In 1957 he enrolled at the Academy of Visual Arts in Charlottenburg, West Berlin where he became interested in Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, and Ernst-Wilhelm Nay.
Georg Kern adopted the last name Baselitz in 1958 as a tribute to his native Saxony. During this time, Baselitz created a series of imaginary portraits, including Onkel Bernard (Uncle Bernard) and the Rayski Head. The series focused on German identity in the post WWII era and was inspired by war soldiers stationed near Baselitz's home. The paintings were composed of thick, fluid brushstrokes, the individuals appearing more as caricatures rather than traditional realist portraits. It was during this time that Baselitz married Elke Kretzschmar, his studio assistant, who gave birth to their son, Daniel.
In the 1960s Baselitz concentrated on specific archetypes in paintings and woodcuts, mostly of rebels, heroes, and shepherds. He became increasingly interested in anamorphosis, the distorted or monstrous representation of an image, as exemplified in the proportions and facial features of his figures. At his first solo exhibition in 1963, many of his more grotesque paintings, such as Der Nackte Mann (Naked Man) and Die grobe Nacht im Eimer (Big Night Down the Drain) were deemed too controversial and were subsequently seized on the grounds of obscenity by the State Attorney. Baselitz continued to reinvent his exaggerated style through experimentation. In an attempt to free style from subject matter, Baselitz created his first inverted (upside-down) painting entitled Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The Wood on its Head) in 1969. Through this upending of image, Baselitz intended to produce painted objects rather than meticulously depicted representations of the real world.
Georg Baselitz moved to Derneburg, Germany, in 1975, where he worked as a professor of painting at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Karlsruhe and at the Hochschule der Bildenden Kunste in West Berlin. He continued to use painting as his primary medium of expressing himself as apost World War II German, continuing to depict inner emotional turmoil through distorted figures and bold, striking brushwork.
Baselitz reinvented his work in 1979 when he began creating monumental wooden sculptures. Similar to his paintings, the sculptures were crude, forceful, and unrefined. He would refrain from "polishing" the work, leaving the surface chipped, scratched, and uneven, adding to the rough hewn appearance. Baselitz's reputation as a visual artist of note was confirmed when was chosen to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1980. There he exhibited his first sculpture, Model for a Sculpture, a crudely carved wooden figure which sparked controversy due to the similarity of its out-raised arm gesture to a Nazi salute. Since the 1990s, he has continued to produce drawings, woodcuts, paintings, and sculptures and has also been an active set designer for operas such as Punch and Judy at the Dutch Opera in Amsterdam. In 1995 his first major retrospective in the United States was held at the Guggenheim in New York City.
Georg Baselitz currently lives and works in Munich and Imeria.
Covering nearly every artistic medium, Georg Baselitz has established himself as a visual artist of international stature. His work confronts the visceral reality of history and tragedy of being German in a post World War II era. Baselitz was best known for his inverted, or upside-down paintings that shift emphasis from subject to the properties of painting itself, creating not just a painted canvas, but a nearly sculptural object. The anamorphic quality of his heroic and rebellious figures has had a powerful and international influence on Neo-Expressionist artists.
Influences and Connections
Artists, Friends, Movements
Artists, Friends, Movements
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Useful Resources on Georg Baselitz
| Baselitz, Painter |
By Helle Crenzien, Poul Erik Tojner, Georg Baselitz
| Georg Baselitz |
By Diane Waldman
| Georg Baselitz: A Retrospective |
By Norman Rosenthal, Richard Shiff, Carla Schulz-Hofman, Georg Baselitz
| Georg Baselitz Recent Paintings |
By Michael Brenson
| Georg Baselitz: Recent Paintings 1997 |
By Richard Schiff
| Georg Baselitz - Reviews: New York |
| Georg Baselitz:'Art is visceral and vulgar - it's an eruption' |
September 15, 2007
| Georg Baselitz: Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale |
March 7, 2009
| Georg Baselitz talks to Pamela Kort - '80s Then - Interview |