“The hierarchy where the sky is at the top and the ground down below is in any case only an agreement, one that we have all got used to, but one that we absolutely do not have to believe in.” (G. BASELITZ, quoted in W. Grasskamp, ‘Georg Baselitz in conversation with Walter Grasskamp’ in Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings & Interviews, London 2010, p. 84)
Schwarzer Kopf mit blauem Ohr (Head with Blue Ear) (1985) is a typically bold example of Georg Baselitz’s thrilling inversion of illustrative structure, literally flipping art on its head. A clownish visage grins, upside-down, from a morass of black impasto. His features – apart from the titular blue ear – are picked out in pink and green; his hands are held to his forehead as childishly covering his eyes. Indeed, this playful suggestion of ‘see no evil’ gestures towards the eye-opening quality of Baselitz’s overturned art, which aims to radically disillusion the viewer from a state of passive acceptance. Rather than inverting a finished painting, he begins and ends the work in this format, working in an entirely new compositional logic that carries an undeniable and revitalising visual shock. ‘Whenever I start a painting,’ Baselitz has said, ‘I set out to formulate things as if I were the first one, the only one, and as if all the precedents didn’t exist – even though I know that there are thousands of precedents ranged against me. One has always to think of making something, something valid. That’s my life’ (‘Georg Baselitz in conversation with Jean-Louis Froment and Jean-Marc Poinsot’ (1983) in Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings & Interviews, London 2010, p. 71).
Baselitz’s radical and dissonant paintings break aggressively with convention, taking to task traditional modes of thinking and seeing with uncompromising pictorial force. Born in Soviet East Germany, he was expelled from the Academy of Art there in 1956 for ‘sociopolitical immaturity.’ Moving to West Berlin, he rose to prominence amid frequent controversy in the 1960s as a pioneer of German Neo-Expressionism, his distinctively tense and agitated works exploring the identity of the artist in Post-War Germany through a voracious and impudent treatment of art history. Apart from his inversion of the picture plane, he also often employed obscene, offhanded subject matter and painted with his fingers rather than a brush, making profane and bathetic the sanctified art object. This self-conscious immaturity is clear in Schwarzer Kopf mit blauem Ohr, the figure’s irreverent expression sharpening Baselitz’s iconoclastic edge: this is an image of upheaval, contravention and taboo-breaking, confronting us with a wicked and knowing smile.