Georg Baselitz and the art of painting a world “upside down”

Vivienne Nosti

At 80 years old, the German artist does not stop a production that started more than 60 years ago.

At 80, Georg Baselitz won’t stop his artistic production, which over the years has raised admiration and criticism due to a style seeking to change the rules of the game (with his upside down portraits, for example) and cause some scandals along the way. Proof of its productive trajectory was an exhibition that was on display until recently at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. “Baselitz: Six Decades” was the artist’s first major retrospective in the United States in more than 20 years and had a collection of more than 100 of his works.

All Images: courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum.

Baselitz was born Hans Georg Kern, en 1938, in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony, a small German town. Hans grew up in a war-torn German landscape, where his father, a member of the Nazi party, fought and lost an eye in the process.

Georg Baselitz took the surname of his town in 1961, renaming himself Baselitz, marking a new epoch for himself as an artist. He attended the Academy of Fine and Applied Arts in East Berlin but was expelled from the school after two terms for “sociopolitical immaturity.”

He subsequently moved to West Berlin in 1957, where he briefly experimented with abstraction. His works, “The Naked Man” and “The Big Night Down the Drain” caused such a scandal at his first exhibition in West Berlin in 1963 that they were confiscated by the state for indecency.

Following that situation, Georg Baselitz completed a six-month fellowship at Villa Romana in Florence, Italy in 1956, which gave him more freedom in his artistic expression.

It was there that he fell in love with the mannerist paintings of Pontormo and Parmigianino among many others.

On his road back to Germany, Georg Baselitz began his series “Heroes,” which included paintings that depict figures with large distorted bodies wearing tattered clothing.

These figures often set amongst apocalyptic landscapes represented his vision of a torn and rejuvenated Germany.

In 1966, Georg Baselitz began to work on fracture paintings in an attempt to once again liberate himself from the constraints of his previous motifs.

All Images courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum.

Subsequently, in 1969, he would begin creating his first inverted paintings that would become an integral part of his work. He created all of these paintings from photographs, many of which, were of his long-time wife, Elke, his frequent model and muse.

However, in the 1980s, Georg Baselitz began experimenting with sculpture. This again resulted in a great deal of controversy: after one of his sculptures was interpreted as portraying a Nazi salute at the 39th Venice Biennale.

A few years later, Georg Baselitz would take on a more retrospective view of his own work, resulting in a series of remix paintings that paid homage to painters that had been an inspiration to him such as Otto Dix and Andy Warhol.

This great artist is still working so we hope that we will see many more incarnations of Georg Baselitz showing us what it is to never stop exploring oneself and one’s art and making sure to continue the journey of reinventing yourself even when you have reached your zenith. ■

© | 2019