- Baselitz, PainterBy Helle Crenzien, Poul Erik Tojner, Georg Baselitz
- Georg BaselitzOur PickBy Diane Waldman
Important Art by Georg Baselitz
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 20th century history.
The Rebel exemplifies Baselitz's early portraits. Typical are the distorted proportions and exaggerated anatomical structure. The painting is among many he produced in the 1960s that concentrate on archetypal figures, such as 'heroes', 'rebels', and 'shepherds'. Here, the hero figure appears wounded, bloody, and limping, the body almost transparent as we are offered a glimpse of the viscous, ensnarled entrails. The image draws inspiration from Baselitz's childhood in Saxony, where he was exposed to the violence of WWII firsthand. It also draws on the imagery of German Romanticism, in which nature and the landscape was often used as a focus of patriotic and religious feeling.
Der Wald auf dem Kopf or The Wood on its Head is Baselitz's first inverted painting, in which he upends his subject matter to frustrate recognition of the objects depicted. Its motif, based on a picture by the early-19th-century painter Louis Ferdinand von Rayski, is similar to those found in his previous work, but here he makes them secondary to the physical properties of the medium. This radical approach troubles our ability to interpret the picture, leaving us wondering whether we are now looking at an abstraction or, simply, a conventional landscape upturned. We might read it as symptomatic of Baselitz's continuing attempts to find a different path from those that had been dominant when he emerged - the gestural abstraction of Paris and New York, and the Socialist Realism of the Eastern bloc.