Sep 12, 2011

PROFILE | Sigmar Polke, The Alchemist

Sigmar Polke, treehouse, mixed media, 1976

Originally trained as a glass painter Sigmar Polke would become identified as the Alchemist and an adopter of American Pop Art. Mr. Polke was a German based artist, his techniques and imagery would come to be as influential as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. And is also linked to have directly influenced artist such as Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Richard Prince.

The only problem is that I have never heard of him until now. 

I first stumbled across his name when conducting research for my thesis work and after looking at his work it’s incredible how recognizable his influence on others can be seen. After realizing how much he has influenced  so many contemporary artist and how little I have heard about him, it’s as though he has the Platinum Weird curse. 

As you can see in the painting above, treehouse, his years of being an apprentice in glass painting still influences his paintings in the way he uses light and color to creates the illusion of a glass painting. Polke’s work crosses through several different mediums such as sculpture, installation, conceptual art and of course painting. The New York Times described him as “diverse, has stylistic promiscuity and joyful, ruthless exploitation and expansion of the ways and means of several mediums.”
He was also one of the developers along with Gerhard Richter of “Capitalist Realism.”

Sigmar Polke, Höhere Wesen befehlen, offset lithographs on fourteen paper sheets, b.1941

Like his American counterparts Polke’s work often involved commentary on social consumerism. As seen in the image above, Höhere Wesen befehlen, which translates to Higher Beings Command, he includes every day products like gloves, sausages, socks etc. He pioneered a way of art that reflected a crossover technique of representational and abstraction. He often favored using potatoes in his sculptures. 

He is referred to as the Alchemist because he often experimented with fruit and vegetable juices along with chemicals to get a reaction in his paintings  that would make them strangely come to life. Polke’s paintings would sometimes change color with the change of temperature and humidity, strangely enough like a human’s body would change in the different climate and humidity levels. It is also said that Sigmar Polke himself looked somewhat like a wizard in if physic and somewhat strange and sometimes erratic in behavior due to substance abuse. 

Polke’s first show was in 1970 at the Michael Werner gallery in which he would remain faithfully for twenty years. Although he lived in Germany for the majority of his life his widely influential work was shown at MoMA, Tate Modern, the Zurch Kunthaus, the Reina and the Osaka Museum of Modern Art. 

He never stopped working, even through his later years he began to develop a series that was influenced by the album cover of The Rolling Stones album cover Their Satanic Majesties Request, which involves lenticular printing.  
Sigmar Polke, Today You Accomplish Something That Not Everybody Would Accomplish in This Short a Time (Ersatz Van Gogh), lenticular printing,  2007

Sigmar Polke consequently died from complications from cancer in June of 2010, he was 69.

-Joyce Garcia Gallegos

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