Polke dots and more

Art

Polke dots and more

Abstract?  Polke’s ‘You can prevent milk boiling over by putting a velvet insole in your shoe.’

The subject matter seems about everything and nothing all at once, depending on what one’s perception is trained to do. The myriad dots, swirls, smears and lines constitute Polke’s uniquely indefinable style, broadly embracing and gently mocking diverse art techniques, addressing banal life and intellectual matter with the same swift strokes, and creating a wondrous world where each painting is alive and speaking.

The 40 gouache paintings exhibited in the show are from his work in 1996 and represent “…a contemporary chamber recital of ‘cosmic tasters’ of his entire artistic output…”, in the words of writer Bice Curiger. They give an insight into a variety of modes in which Polke has worked through his artistic career from the 60s onward.

Born in 1941 in Selesia (a part of East Germany then, now part of Poland), when Polke was 12, his family escaped the communist regime and moved to the flourishing city Düsseldorf. Here he gained experience as an apprentice in a stained glass factory, before joining art school, the Staatliche Kunstakademie where Joseph Beuys was teaching. In 1963, Polke organised an exhibition with fellow students Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg (later Konrad Fischer) called Capitalist Realism. The exhibition was sarcastically titled after the realist style of art known as ‘Socialist Realism’, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, and also reflected a reaction to the consumer-driven art ‘doctrine’ of western capitalism.

The subject matter of Polke’s early work — item’s from everyday life, matchsticks, sausages, bread or chocolate — combined with images from the mass media constructed from printing raster dots, often caused comparisons with American pop art, (particularly Lichtenstein who used benday dots). But whereas American Pop art promoted a slick, advertising-inspired appearance, often integrating mechanical processes like screen printing, Polke from the start painstakingly made each dot by hand, subverting the very intention of the pop artist’s use of print images. Blowing up images from newspapers and magazines, Polke paints them onto his surface, with blurs and registration failures, particularly enjoying the ‘mistakes’ that occur in the printing process, and the constant perceptional changes that transpire with the context of the image.

Throughout his career he has constantly juggled with the figurative and the abstract, often combining the two, like in ‘You can prevent milk boiling over by putting a velvet insole in your shoe’ in the exhibition. The title is baffling, as are all the titles in the show, and continues Polke’s love for juxtapositioning and experiment along with the larger relationship of verbal and visual as seen in the mass media. The work’s focal points are a benday dot drawing of a modern woman, perhaps from a magazine, and a line drawing of a simpering Rococco beauty. Set against a vivid flowing background of red, gold, white and blue, the characters generate a strange relationship, suggesting anything from the passing of time, to standards of feminine beauty, even perhaps bringing to mind ‘not crying over spilt milk’, lost beauty?

Polke integrates his paintings with concepts and images bridging apparently disconnected cultures, politics, and histories; the deceptive simplicity extended by humour and irony actually camouflages a shrewd understanding of the world and a commentary on its complex layers of functioning.
The artist lives and works in Cologne.

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