Painted in 1966, Ein Roter is one of Baselitz' celebrated Hero paintings, also known as The New Types. Standing forlorn in a ravaged landscape, the Red - or Communist - of the title appears as the victor in a Pyrrhic victory. He appears sad, without hope, stranded in an obliterated landscape. He is an existential everyman for the era, tapping into Baselitz' anxieties as an artist, as a person, and as a German.
Navigating the rubble-strewn landscape of modern existence, the hero in Ein Roter appears like a character from a Beckett play. He is torn by the violence and pain of life and existence. His vast pack implies that he is well-equipped, and yet for what? Like all the New Types, he is barefoot, his trousers undone, hinting at the act of masturbation that underlies several of the other paintings in the series and which recurs as an interest in Baselitz' work. Is this the limit of the creative act? Is the barefoot warrior in touch with the land or is he unable to cope with existence in this strange and alien landscape? Gazing out from the canvas, Ein Roter appeals for any help or guidance at all, from a higher authority or from the world beyond the canvas. He is lost. At the same time, his bare feet and the hint at masturbation imply that he is trying to experience all the more fully, to immerse himself in life and in the extremes and violence of his age, in short, to feel alive.
For Baselitz, one of the most haunting images was the return of the German soldiers at the end of the Second World War. Baselitz' own father, a teacher, was a prisoner of the British and then the Russian forces, and returned to his home in what was now East Germany. The obliterated landscape of their homeland haunted the artist, as did the question of what it meant now to be a German. Unlike his contemporaries among the German artists, Baselitz shunned the Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art which he saw as American and artificial. In Ein Roter, Baselitz is directly confronting the ambiguous and taboo legacy of German history and nationality in a similar way to Anselm Kiefer, who carried out his Occupations only a few years later. He has created his own means of expression, a means that has evolved directly through the works of his predecessors. The everyman in the landscape recalls the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, the warrior is filled with Wagnerian purpose, while the vivacious brushwork recalls the rawness of some of the Expressionists. The hero in Ein Roter is the new incarnation of an old Geist. This New Type is the cynical, Post-War incarnation of the spirit of Germany, at once filled with the gravitas of a Wagner opera or a Friedrich painting, and subverting it. Ein Roter is the tattered mythological figure from a new and lost Germany, the flawed and fallible deity of a new religion.
The subject of Germany was especially central to Baselitz' work because of the deep, umbilical link that joined him to his homeland. This was in part reflected when he changed his name from Kern, adopting that of Grossbaselitz, his place of birth. Baselitz paints his own preoccupations and anxieties, concerns that are often as relevant to his sense of nation as they are to his personality: 'I have no strategies. I have other things: my biography, my feelings, the way I am. And my origins. All that vague stuff. But I have no strategy for giving an answer, for formulating, preparing or introducing anything. Nothing like that' (Baselitz, quoted in F. Dahlem, Georg Baselitz, Cologne, 1990, p. 33). Ein Roter both harnesses the wider atmosphere of 1960s Germany, while penetrating the profound and intimate sense of rudderless movement that haunted the artist himself.
The presence of these figures in the works between 1965 and 1966 was in part inspired by the time that Baselitz had spent in Florence on a scholarship at the Villa Romana. He was hugely interested in the Mannerists, in the contrapposto that featured in so many of their works and in the vastness of their subjects. Myth and religion was blended through their works, presenting the viewer with monumental visions of the forces of creation and salvation that had formed the world. The New Types form Baselitz' reaction to these influences. He has taken the figures and subjects of the Florentine Mannerists and has converted them, dragging them into the tormented forms appropriate to Post-War Germany. Now, stumbling across the bleak hinterland of modern existence, Ein Roter appears as a new depleted and disorientated saint for the modern era. In this sense, the New Type fulfils a similar role to the religious paintings of old. As Baselitz stated, 'Only pictures show our actual condition. They are inventions that cannot be compared with reality; they have no truth. They consist in, or are implied by, a subjective experience' (Baselitz, quoted in Dahlem, op.cit., 1990, p. 23).
Baselitz has stated that the Heroes were in part based on the Communist forces that defeated the White Russians in the 1920s. Of all the paintings in the series, Ein Roter has the title that most clearly associates him with that moment in history. However, this is not the brave new vision of a new age. He does not appear to herald the reconstruction of his country and the beginning of an era of social justice. Instead the image is flawed, he appears crestfallen, and in a wilderness where human life is scarcely visible. The buildings in the background appear ruined and fragmentary. This new age is as flawed as its hero, Baselitz deliberately puncturing the prototypes of Socialist Realist painting and propaganda to undermine any optimism. This is the Communist Revolution as seen by a non-believer, by a cynic.
Baselitz was raised during troubled times for Germany. Born into the Second World War, he saw his father leave, forced to fight, and return without one eye. Baselitz' father had been a teacher, but found himself living first as a soldier and then as a prisoner. The home he returned to found itself in East Germany - Communist Germany - where the authorities refused for a long time to let him teach because he had been (albeit by necessity) a member of the Nazi party. Thus the young painter's relationship to Communism was not one of adulation or belief, and Baselitz himself fled East Germany when he was young.
The plunge into the West, into non-Communist Germany, was traumatic and liberating for Baselitz: 'You found yourself suddenly in a very alien, chilly environment. When the traditional ties are gone, when there are no more teachers, no more fathers, that's what I mean by rupture' (Baselitz, quoted in J. Gachnang, 'A Painting for the Fathers,' reproduced in German Art from Beckmann to Richter, exh. cat., Berlin 1997, p. 120). In Ein Roter, this sense of freedom mingles with a sense of desolation. The artist has pictured himself as a warrior in an alien landscape, a pioneer and a hero against all odds. Yet he is despairing, he is stumbling under the burden. Removed from his home, from the authority that he had known, Baselitz was free. But this freedom was also a detachment from the landscape of his home, from his roots and the atavism that had informed his art. In this sense, Ein Roter shows an orphaned figure seeking authority, Baselitz inventing a new personal mythology, a new patron saint that could guide him through the ordeal of life in West Germany. He has painted a picture of rupture, he has painted a man lost in a cataclysmic, apocalyptic landscape, the subjective embodiment of his own anxieties at navigating his way through the Twentieth Century as an artist, as a German and as a human. His direct experience of this break with what he knew, with his family and with his home, allowed him all the more poignantly to depict the rupture that had been wrought upon his nation and upon his age.