'It is clear that a progressive scientific approach like my own can no longer concern itself with boorish causalities or self-satisfied reasons but must focus instead upon relationships, since without relationships, even causality itself might just as well pack up and leave, and every reason would be without consequence. Thus in my scientific work I concentrated upon the exploration of those relationships which genuinely bind things together, beyond their tendentious subdivision into "causes" and "effects"... This whole system of classifying things as causes and effects must come to an end! We must create a world of free and equal phenomena, a world in which things are finally allowed to form relationships once again, relationships liberated from the bonds of servile text-book causality and narrow-minded, finger-pointing consecution... (for) only in these relationships is it possible to find the true meaning and the true order of things’ (S. Polke, ‘Early Influences, Later Consequences...’, reproduced in Sigmar Polke - The Three Lies of Painting, Cologne 1997, pp. 289-290)
Presenting a grand survey of Sigmar Polke’s abstract practice, the four panels of Ohne Titel (Sommerbilder I-IV) No. 1-4 (Untitled (Summer pictures I-IV) No. 1-4)), 1982, collectively represent the breadth and diversity of the artist’s indefinable oeuvre. Charting Polke’s artistic development, each of the four panels can be regarded as an artwork in its own right. Each in turn represents a distinct painted style. Together, the incongruous grouping of panels merge and join together to form a retrospective of Polke’s practice, which in itself is defined by its elusive and multifarious quality. A reflection back upon his own organic painting processes and concepts, Ohne Titel (Sommerbilder I-IV) No. 1-4 features many of Polke’s distinctive motifs and techniques. Across the four monumental panels, each spanning nearly two metres in height, a myriad of mixed-media spillages, rasterbild and abstracted brushstrokes merge to present a subtle relationship of forms through a series of unrelated contexts. Magically, the whole emerges as greater than the sum of its parts.
Situated within the fascinatingly varied series of fabric works that Polke made in the late 1980s, each panel is formed of two incongruous sheets of fabric sown together. Rejecting traditional canvas, Polke employs a diverse amalgamation of synthetic and natural patterned textiles to play out his artistic experiments. These fabrics produce a split ground upon which various painterly explorations are played out, fusing multiple layers of abstract and representational imagery.
The first of these four canvases presents traditional Eastern European fabric that, in a technique often used by the artist, subverts the context of traditional canvas to form an elaborate ready-made backcloth for the painting. The disarming aesthetic of patterns of the prints is grounded in social and political cultural references, performing as anthropological token of the West German petite bourgeoisie. Over this quilted collage background, Polke has painted a number of diagrammatic shapes, some of which - the arabesque curves of the left hand diagram in particular - are variously echoed throughout the following three panels. In contrast, the second panel is a field of abstracted colour. Its ambiguous and indistinct background of seemingly accidental pourings, splashes and drips is sharply delineated against bold geometric lines. Working and reworking the surface to build up multiple layers of painting, Polke created the illusion of depth through the use of strong blue lines akin to Richter’s abstracts of this time.
The third panel showcases Polke’s iconic raster technique, subversively echoing and commenting upon his own visual investigations of German Pop art in the 1960s. Carrying on his own investigations of the artifice used by the mass-media for propaganda, Polke’s hand-painted rasterbilder sought to magnify and abstract media images. Making use of a silkscreen architectural design that he used repeatedly in the early 1980s, such as in Opiumraucher (Opium Smoker), 1983, Polke’s composition bifurcates itself perfectly like a Rorschach ink blot test. The painterly gestures across the final panel conspire to form a semi-figurative, semi-abstract painting. Linear paint marks and brushstrokes sprayed and splattered onto the canvas hint at figurative imagery without clearly defining it.
Fusing these incongruous motifs and techniques together, viewed simultaneously, the panels cohere to form one complex and dramatic work. Polke refuses to allow his art to become formulaic by restricting it to any one form of representation. Yet, like so much of Polke’s enigmatic practice, here he deliberately repeats certain motifs and forms. As a means of allowing an infinite number of dialogues to take place within and between the pictures, each of the four panels hints at visual associative meaning that seems to lie beyond the rational. When viewed as a whole, Ohne Titel (Sommerbilder I-IV) No. 1-4 presents itself as a culmination of Polke’s diverse oeuvre.