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Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Ohne Titel (Selbstbildnis) (Untitled (Self-Portrait))

Details
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Ohne Titel (Selbstbildnis) (Untitled (Self-Portrait))
signed and dated 'S. Polke 83' (on the reverse)
acrylic and silver paint on printed fabric
35 5/8 x 27 ¾in. (90.5 x 70.5cm.)
Executed in 1983
Provenance
Studio d'Arte Cannaviello, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Post lot text
We are most grateful to Mr. Michael Trier from the Estate of Sigmar Polke for the information he has kindly provided.

Lot Essay

‘the fabric he used suggested...that even the painter’s support belonged as much in the everyday world as in the studio. The idea of a blank surface awaiting the autograph mark is made obsolete by the presence of pre-printed fabrics and finishes. Polke immediately establishes a relationship to something that existed before the picture, while simultaneously diverting that material from its intended function and transforming it into something unique.’ SEAN RAINBIRD

An explosive fusion of figuration and abstraction, this self-portrait by Sigmar Polke signals his welcomed return to painting at the start of the 1980s. In a truly unique piece, Polke demonstrates an ambivalent, enigmatic approach to figurative painting and a passion for utilising textiles and fabric as a support, whilst hinting at his revolutionary alchemical experiments of the same decade. Set against the dull throbbing of a floral textile, Polke works his paints in sketchy, spontaneous, sweeping gestures, almost automatic in his loose focus and evoking the unconscious fluidity championed by the Surrealists. Rough outlines are formed in black pigment, culminating in a riotous splurge of expressionistic brushwork at the top of the painting. The deep, ultramarine strokes forming the artist’s eyes are set against a faded wash of green, the inconsistency of the paint inadvertently modelling the form of the face, making it look stretched and wise in its age. A few strokes of silver paint dash luminously towards the artist’s head, propelling the work into a pseudo-magical realm and mirroring the full realisation of chemical experiments that had started to inform Polke’s visual vocabulary, as demonstrated by Polke’s Colour Experiment [Farbprobe] series from the preceding year.

The abstract and figurative forms in Polke’s Ohne Titel (Selbstbildnis) dance dazzlingly together, with a deliberate blurring between form and pure expression. Polke had a complex relationship with abstraction, cautious to join his post-war German contemporaries in exhausting its possibilities after an emancipation from any ostensible ‘degeneracy’ as condemned by the German Democratic Republic. Whilst Benjamin Buchloh admitted (in 1982) that originality in abstraction had become fatigued, Polke also found it evasive, an opportunity to negate the problems caused by the atrocities of the Second World War. However, he constantly married form and abstraction, an aspect accentuated by Kathy Halbreich who, recalling a meeting with Polke, claimed that ‘… he compared the symbolic transfiguration of wafer and wine into Christ’s flesh and blood, through transubstantiation, to the ways in which abstraction and figuration are linked rather than opposing concepts’ (K. Halbreich, quoted in Alibis: Sigmar Polke, 1963-2010, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 83). Whilst warning of the dangers of operating within a sole sphere of abstraction, Polke clearly acknowledged its continued importance as an expressive vehicle through which to construct form.

This personal approach to figurative abstraction is set against a backdrop of fabric, a quintessential leitmotif of Polke’s work. Throughout his career, Polke collected synthetic textiles, producing fascinating results by employing his acquisitions as a support upon which to paint. Here, a neutral ground covers a vertical pattern of flowers, so that the design shines faintly through. Polke particularly enjoyed domestic textiles – curtains, tablecloths, pillows and duvet-covers, and aprons – from the 1950s and 60s, a bright palette of colour rendering geometrical, repetitive patterns. As Sean Rainbird has noted, ‘the fabric he used suggested...that even the painter's support belonged as much in the everyday world as in the studio. The idea of a blank surface awaiting the autograph mark is made obsolete by the presence of pre-printed fabrics and finishes. Polke immediately establishes a relationship to something that existed before the picture, while simultaneously diverting that material from its intended function and transforming it into something unique’ (S. Rainbird, Sigmar Polke: Join the Dots, Liverpool, 1995, pp. 12-15).

Evoking their socio-historical context, Polke’s Stoffbilder (fabric-paintings) trigger a manipulation of perception. In Ohne Titel (Selbstbildnis), the flower-textile appears ghostly underneath the white ground. Like the static strobe of a camera flash, it manifests itself in metaphysical space, against the reality of Polke’s painted self-portrait, exemplifying Polke’s intentions to encourage the viewer to see beyond natural perceptions. Realised in a comfortable style of abstraction and figurative form, Polke subsequently shatters our comprehension of any stylistic familiarity by employing the painted subject and ground as a gauze – through which he reveals a mystifying underlay of pattern and colour – in a work that celebrates the height of Polke’s artistic tenure as a perplexing experimenter.

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