Known for his dynamically upended compositions, Georg Baselitz is one of the most celebrated painters working today. Created during an important period in the artist’s career when an increased interest in color and gesture took hold, Trinker signals the artist’s reexamination of his practice and its place in the spectrum of abstract painting. “The ‘80s helped me to rearrange everything; I was able to set up a whole range of ideas and experiences anew, which meant I was able to break everything down so I could make something out of it again” (G. Baselitz quoted in P. Kort, “Georg Baselitz talks to Pamela Kort - ‘80s Then – Interview,” ArtForum, April 2003, p. 205). Following his decision to paint upside down in the late 1960s, the artist pushed vehemently against any kind of link to past Expressionists and instead focused on placing his works in the interstitial space between figuration and pure abstraction.
Fully immersed in a world of vibrant yellow and energetic, broad brushstrokes, the rotated subject of Trinker is a face in profile next to a green bottle. Using thick contour lines to outline the latter, Baselitz depicts the drink hovering precariously in the air. Its contents threaten to spill out at any moment, but in the artist’s consistently upside-down universe, this moment distorts our perception of reality and fuses painting with subject. Art critic Donald Kuspit wrote about Trinker and its ilk: “These paintings are not only upside-down they are inside-out: the figures have a flayed, raw look that goes with spiritual nakedness. We seem to have a rogue’s gallery of mutants for whom even the simplest act—eating a fruit, drinking from a bottle—is difficult, a horrendous, urgent event” (D. Kuspit, “Georg Baselitz at Fourcade,” Art in America, February 1982, pp. 139-140). A shock of auburn hair and the drinker’s bright red nose contrast sharply with the figure’s eye and the contents of the bottle, creating a back and forth that serves as a welcome visual reprieve in this strikingly saturated palette.
Part of a dual series of paintings that focused on people drinking and eating oranges (as in Orangenesser VII of 1980/81), Trinker and other works from the early 1980s break with the more heavily worked and dense handling of Baselitz’s previous canvases in favor of an intensity and directness that brings the subject forward while also emphasizing the support. “These works spring more directly from the use of paint and are more expressive, and above all more colorful, than Baselitz previous paintings,” notes Andreas Franzke, “Many are dominated by a positively aggressive color scheme of reds and yellows. The individual brushstroke is emphasized: it not only structures the pictorial layout, it also contributes substantially to the increasing forcefulness with which the thematic idea is handled and the individual motif developed and varied...The figure seems shaken from within by the consequences of their own compulsive actions: explosive trails of paints hold them together” (A. Franzke, Georg Baselitz, Munich, 1988, p. 140). Through a repetition of two simple subjects, Baselitz was able to establish a motif that allowed for a more all-encompassing reading of his practice. The subjects stay the same but the handling of the paint differs from work to work in order to give us a glimpse into the painter’s personality and process.
Beginning in 1969, Baselitz uprooted his entire process and began painting and exhibiting all of his works upside down. By forcing himself to paint figures on their heads, he was able to more fully question his place in the arc of abstract painting as a whole. Works from the 80s like Trinker more fully encompass the artist’s interest in melding the represented subject and the physical painting. Baselitz explained that “the figure cannot conquer the painting. It makes a diplomatic treaty with it to create a certain type of spatial configuration” (G. Baselitz quoted in, M. Auping, ‘Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke’, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Fort Worth, Museum of Modern Art, 1997-1999, p. 20). When one views one of Baselitz’s paintings, they know that there is a figure present. However, because of the artist’s 180-degree shift, our immediate perception is thrown askew. The brain can perform logistical maneuvers to recognize the subject, but the painting itself is at odds with reality. This is precisely what Baselitz wants, and in works like Trinker the near-monochromatic palette serves to heighten this disjointed feeling by merging color with figure and figure with ground.
Born in Germany in the late 1930s, Baselitz came of age in the aftermath of World War II. Moving from East Germany to West Germany before the building of the Berlin Wall, his work was heavily informed by the fractured sense of identity inherent in Germany as a country and as a people. Similar to his contemporaries Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, the idea of Germany comes up often in Baselitz’s work. However, a traveling exhibition of new American abstractions in 1958 introduced him to the work of Willem de Kooning, an artist to whom he was immediately attracted and who influenced Baselitz’s own form of figuration. From de Kooning, the artist learned to situate representational forms within the context of abstraction and pushed away from the pop cultural inquiries of Richter and Polke. “Baselitz was still a painter in a world dominated by abstraction and later the beginnings of conceptual art… The challenge for Baselitz was to find a way to break loose from the subject and yet remain true to himself as an artist, and especially as a painter. His problem was how to be part of the Zeitgeist and yet also to remain outside it” (N. Rosenthal, “Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter,” in Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 18). A tirelessly progressive artist, Baselitz constantly questions his own place in the art historical timeline while still managing to create deeply personal and compelling works.