'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 ... only in these relationships is it possible to find the true meaning and the true order of things' (S. Polke, 'Early Influences, Later Consequences,’ in Sigmar Polke - The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat. Berlin 1997, p. 290)
Sigmar Polke’s Untitled (1992) is a dizzying example of the artist’s multi-layered and hallucinatory style. In an electrifying riot of colours and forms, luminous green orbs encounter splashes of orange and yellow, screes of blue looping among them in painterly chaos; dominating the scene are an array of bizarre caricatures, painted in thick black lines reminiscent of medieval woodcuts. Two scowling visages protrude from thistles like surreal icons of heraldry; an abstract, vaguely phallic form emerges from the lower left. A smiling jester presides over this strobe-lit tableau of postmodern confusion, making a mockery of our attempts to find fixed significance in Polke’s gleefully anti-rationalist world.
Slippery in semiotics and always visually thrilling, Polke’s shifting pageants of art-historical and conceptual strata are a liberating force, channel-surfing through our ways of seeing. As Kevin Power has written, ‘Polke is fully aware that meaning never is but is always shifting and slipping. He explores and exploits these uncertainties – intriguing, setting problems, provoking, amusing himself, investigating, and disturbing. He subverts through irony and play, although it hardly needs saying that play in no way implies the exclusion of seriousness and purpose’ (K. Power, ‘Polke’s Postmodern Play’ in D. Thistlewood (ed.), Sigmar Polke: Back to Postmodernity, Critical Forum vol. 4, Liverpool 1996, p. 107). The psychedelic quality of Polke’s visuals can be partly traced to his formative psychoactive odysseys of the 1970s. The artist claims that he ‘learned a great deal from drugs – the most important thing being that the conventional definition of reality, and the idea of “normal life,” mean nothing’ (S. Polke, quoted in K. McKenna, ‘Sigmar Polke’s Layered Look,’ LA Times 3 December 1995). This post-structural visionary impulse transferred directly to his attitude to painting: rules of composition, traditional materials and the set ways to decode a painted image are disregarded in a widescreen hallucinogen of a work that takes the viewer merrily out of their comfort zone – indeed, beyond any recognisable ‘zone’ entirely. Polke’s vivid picture plane dissolves hierarchies, collapses authority and holds numerous divergent thoughts at once, creating a glorious and ludic spectacle of enhanced consciousness.