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Georg Baselitz - Biography and Legacy

German Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Georg Baselitz Photo
Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: January 23, 1938 - Deutschbaselitz, Germany

Biography

Childhood

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 19th 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.

Early Training

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.

Mature Period

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.

Late Period

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.

Legacy

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.

Most Important Art

Quotes

"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 Signature
"I proceed from a state of disharmony, from ugly things."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"The reality is the picture, it is most certainly not in the picture."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"I always feel attacked when I'm asked about my painting."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"Unlike the Expressionists, I have never been interested in renewing the world through the vehicle of art."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"The artist is not responsible to any one. His social role is asocial... his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"I don't like things that can be reproduced. Wood isn't important in itself but rather in the fact that objects made in it are unique, simple, unpretentious."
Georg Baselitz Signature
"I always work out of uncertainty but when a painting's finished it becomes a fixed idea, apparently a final statement. In time though, uncertainty returns.. your thought process goes on."
Georg Baselitz Signature

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