- Baselitz, PainterBy Helle Crenzien, Poul Erik Tojner, Georg Baselitz
- Georg BaselitzOur PickBy Diane Waldman
Progression of Art
Die grobe Nacht im Eimer (Big Night down the Drain)
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.
Oil on canvas - Museum Ludwig, Cologne
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.
Oil on canvas - The Tate Modern, London
Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The Wood On Its Head)
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.
Oil on canvas
Modell fur eine Skulptur (Model for a Sculpture)
Modell fur eine Skulptur (Model for a Sculpture), Baselitz's first sculpture, typifies his crude treatment of wood in this medium - a treatment analogous to his treatment of paint in his previous work. Similar in its primitivizing tendency to the work of artists such as Ludwig Kirchner, Baselitz found inspiration for the approach in African sculpture, believing it to offer a model for a more spontaneous expression of movement and human emotion. The work was first exhibited in the West German Pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 1980. Baselitz had originally intended to show paintings, but changed his mind at a late stage and sent only this sculpture. The work immediately sparked controversy, since the raised arm gesture of the figure is similar to the that of a Nazi salute; the red and black coloring of the figure has also been interpreted as a reference to the colors of the Third Reich. However, other sources for the sculpture suggest themselves: perhaps the Futurist bronze, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, by Umberto Boccioni; and Baselitz has also said that the work was inspired by an edible souvenir available at a market in Dresden. The gesture of the figure - a figure bound to the ground by a block of wood - might simply communicate frustration.
Limewood and tempera - The Ludwig Museum, Cologne
Head and Bottle
Head and Bottle best showcases Georg Baselitz's vigorous energy as a printmaker: the monumental print is 1000 x 485 mm in scale. Although the work depicts the bust of a man, through inversion the image is confused and hovers on the verge of abstraction. Each layer of color appears to be torn away from the surface, revealing the color underneath. It is similar in approach to some paintings that the artist produced around the same time, one depicting a man drinking from a glass, another showing a figure eating an orange. In a sense, the postures of the figures, and the objects they hold, simply accentuate the viewer's confusion when they appear upside-down, but some critics have also suggested that these everyday activities take on the character of a sacred ritual when they are depicted at such scale, and in such an unusual manner.
Woodcut, 3 blocks - Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München
Dresdner Frauen-Karla is one of a series of eleven monumental sculptural busts of women which commemorate the destruction of Dresden at the end of World War II. Baselitz grew up not far from the city, and remembered its destruction vividly. He wanted to pay homage to what he called the "rubble women," who he believed embodied the reconstruction efforts of a broken city. The large block of wood that forms the piece has been hacked away by a chainsaw to create the crude facial features. She appears to be deteriorating, symbolizing the weakened state of Dresden. The intense gaze, enormous proportion, and pulsating yellow hue exhibit a strong emotional presence. Similar in tone to the figures in his Heroes series, Karla represents a woman scarred by war, yet defiant.
Wood and tempera - Staatliche Kunstsammlungen