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Sigmar Polke

German, 1941 - 2010

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Born in 1941, in Oels, Silesia--then occupied by Nazi Germany and now part of Poland--Sigmar Polke smuggled himself into the West at the age of twelve by feigning sleep on a train. In the West, Polke studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, where he met the painter Gerhard Richter and the art dealer Konrad Fischer, with whom he originated Capitalist Realism in 1963. Though short-lived, this movement propelled the artist's interest in evoking irony from the new realities of everyday life in Germany after World War II. He often photocopied and projected images from mail-order catalogues, advertisements, and newspapers in order to incorporate them into his paintings by hand. Reminiscent of early modern artists such as Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887 - 1948) and Francis Picabia (French, 1879 - 1953), Polke possesses an experimental spirit that never ceases to push the limits of painting, from its methods and techniques to its expressive possibilities.

Polke's wide range of imagery often challenges the restraints of reason and consciousness. Searching for truth outside the bounds of science, Polke acts as an alchemist-painter--mixing poisonous acids, smoke, and newly created pigments into his paintings. Thwarting modernist concerns for contained forms and permanent objects in favor of testing the mutability of images, Polke commenced his series of experimental abstractions, such as Ginkgo, in the 1980s. In this work, a sensuously amorphous, semitranslucent deluge of color over the canvas cloth subtly reveals the painting's wooden structure, in effect exposing its very physical structure.

Polke's Flüchtlingslager (Refugee Camp) of 1994 displays a continued interest in submerging imagery in washes of color that evoke abstraction and suggest hallucination. His ambiguous colors paradoxically belie the palpably charged subject of the painting, a clear allusion to the death camps of Nazi Germany. Polke's choice to paint the internment scene with his signature dots that mimic newsprint serves to distance us from reality and summon apparitions of the past.

Notations: Kiefer, Polke, Richter, 2007

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