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IntroductionA.R. PENCK’S use of signs and symbols can be understood across the world
Born in Dresden in 1939, Ralf Winkler had many artistic pseudonyms, including Mickey Spilane, Mike Hammer, or simply Y, before becoming internationally recognised as A.R. Penck. The universal language he developed is based on elementary symbols, which can be traced in part back to cave drawings. Animals, stick men, crosses and solar symbols, as well as extended speers and arrows drawn on arms and legs, symbolise existential struggles, territories, and social or governmental barriers. The mind-sets of his images are friend or foe, treason or peace, barrier or bridge. They are composed not only according to political themes from the past and present, but also those of evocative rituals such as healing and suffering. The artist uses the expression “Standart-Bilder” (“Standard Images”) to describe his style, which is characterised above all by black symbols on colourful backgrounds of primary colours such as red, green, yellow, and blue.
Yet these standardised image systems and archaic picture worlds continually diverge from the traditional demands of socialist realism. Winkler, who now lives in Ireland, loves to be an outsider, and worked as a fireman, a roofer, and in many other jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, the sculptor and painter was rejected four times from the public art universities of the GDR. After failing to get accepted in Dresden and at the Academy for Applied Arts in East Berlin, he developed a unique, self-taught style. In Dresden he worked in an atelier with Max Uhlig and took part in underground drawing classes, for example. For much of his time as an artist in the GDR, however, he was forbidden from exhibiting. Only on rare occasions was he able to show his works to a small section of the public. This was thanks to the help of good friends in independent galleries or cooperative-lead institutions such as the “Galerie Oben” (“Gallery Above”) in the former Karl-Mark-Stadt, known today as Chemnitz.
Winkler was involved in countless underground music bands in the GDR, where he and his artistic colleagues would organise small “total artworks” comprising music, theatre, and dance. This activity was done under the pseudonyms of Mike Hammer of Mickey Spilane, names he kept for the works and techniques that stemmed from these pieces. The top view and planeness of his works ultimately stems from Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, which provides the fundamental inspiration for his brushstrokes and slashes.
Though his international career began when he renounced his citizenship of the GDR in 1980, he had already been able to win over a number of collectors and fans during the 70s. From 1969 onwards he had had increasing problems with the State Security Service of the GDR, and in 1979 they destroyed his Atelier and the artwork within as part of a pretend break-in. Despite this, Winkler began to support the dissident cause in 1976 after meeting the Düsseldorf painter Jörg Immendorf. In 1988, shortly before German reunification, he became Professor at the University of Düsseldorf, where he taught painting until 2003.
1939 Born in Dresden 1955-1956 Apprenticeship as drawer at DEWAG 1971 Member of artistgroup Lücke 1972 Participation at Documenta 5 1980 Moving to West-Germany 1982 Participation at Documenta 7 1983 Moving to London 1984 Teilnahme an der Biennale in Venedig 1988 Professor for Painting 1992 Participation at Documenta 9 2003 Moved to Dublin 2017 Died in ZurichCollections
Kunstsammlung Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt Main Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg Kunstmuseum Walter, Augsburg Museum of Modern Art, New York Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt Main Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Städtische Galerie Dresden (Sammlung Jürgen Schweinebraden) Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, Strassburg Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden