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Georg Baselitz

German Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Georg Baselitz Photo
Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: January 23, 1938 - Deutschbaselitz, Germany

"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

Summary of Georg Baselitz

Georg Baselitz was enormously influential in showing a generation of German artists how they might come to terms with issues of art and national identity in the wake of the Second World War. Briefly trained in the officially sanctioned social realism of Communist East Berlin, he soon moved to West Berlin, and encountered abstract art. Ultimately, however, he was to reject both options. While others turned to Conceptual art, Pop, and Arte Povera, Baselitz revived the German Expressionism that had been denounced by the Nazis, and returned the human figure to a central position in painting. Controversial when he first emerged in 1963, and controversial again nearly two decades later when he began to produce sculpture, Baselitz inspired a revival of Neo-Expressionist painting in Germany in the 1970s, and his example gave encouragement to many more who took up similar styles both in Europe and the United States in the 1980s.

Key Ideas

Many aspects of Baselitz's work represent an attempt to revive symbols of German national identity that were tarnished after World War II. When he was maturing as a painter, the dominant style was a gestural abstraction that looked beyond Germany to international trends, but Baselitz rejected this in favor of Expressionism, a style which is central to his wider efforts. It signalled his desire to connect with a style and tradition that had been denounced by the Nazis. It also affirms his belief in romantic traditions that earlier Expressionists had adopted in protest against aspects of modern life.
Although the figure has often been central in Baselitz's painting, his approach to it suggests a deep unease about the possibility of celebrating humanity in the wake of the Holocaust and WWII. Among his early series are images of Heroes, and Partisans, and yet these warriors seem awkward giants, clad in tattered rags. His later strategy of depicting figures upside-down might be read as another recognition of the same difficulty.
Baselitz presented himself as a romantic outsider in the Pandemonium manifestoes he penned with fellow painter Eugen Schönebeck in 1962, and his paintings often present figures who have been traditionally seen as outcasts from society. At a time when German society was rebuilding itself in the image of American consumerism, his painting represented a refusal and a protest. In this sense the figures that inhabit his Heroes series might be read as types from an earlier, more romantic era in German history, an era now passed.
Although Baselitz's embrace of painting was important in encouraging the medium's revival in the 1970s and 1980s, some believe his style betrays an anxiety about its continued viability in world of mass communication. Rather than delight in the lush effects of oil paint, his handling sometimes suggests awkward scratches and smears, an effect which compounds the anguish of the figures he depicts.
Georg Baselitz Life and Legacy

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.

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