‘When I was sixteen I listened to Schonberg and Webern, all the Modernists, what was modern at that time. Then a workshop for Jazz was founded and I became a member. That was for two years. Then it was outlawed, like it always was in the East. Then my interest started….I got my first gig in 1975 in a Jazz cellar. That was really very successful…It is my biggest hobby, music’ (A.R. Penck, quoted in ‘Interviews: A.R. Penck’, Journal of Contemporary Art, vol. 7, no. 1, Summer 1994, pp.80-88).
Executed in 1984 and exhibited at the artist’s solo show at Waddington Galleries in the same year, A.R. Penck’s monumental Musikprobleme is an alluring example of the artist’s acclaimed practice and captures his enduring passion for music. Demonstrating Penck’s signature 'Standart' aesthetic, a term coined by the artist himself, mask-like heads and animated stick figures present themselves against a colourful background of primary colours and symbols. Taking its first impulses from visual systems like tribal art and hieroglyphics, Penck's ‘Standart’ style was designed as a complex vocabulary of signs and symbols with universal comprehension that had the potential to analyse the relationship between the individual and society. Replete with the artist’s signature impulsive brushwork, expressivity and spontaneity, the primitive symbols found in the present work recalls the African masks that Picasso and other artists from the early 20th century used as inspiration in their art. At the same time, the dynamism and exuberance in Musikprobleme testifies to Penck’s love for music. A keen drummer , pianist and guitarist, the artist was a member of a jazz group since the late 1970s. Asked by curator Klaus Ottmann in a 1985 interview whether he saw a relationship between music and his paintings, Penck explained, ‘Yes, in the rhythm because I am very interested in rhythm’ (A.R. Penck, quoted in ‘Interviews: A.R. Penck’, in Journal of Contemporary Art, vol. 7, no. 1, Summer 1994, pp.80-88).