Beginning in 1969, Georg Baselitz literally turned art on its head. By inverting his paintings of figures, landscapes or heads, Baselitz aimed to free the work for an abstract reading-thereby emphasizing form, not motif, as his primary concern. According to the artist:
I have always seen my paintings as independent from meanings with regard to contents-and also independent from associations that could result from them. (I)f one needs a tree, a person or a cow in the picture, but without meaning, without contents, then one simply takes it and turns it upside down. Because that really separates the subject from its associations ... it defies an interpretation of the contents. If it stands on its head, it is delivered of all ballast, it is delivered from tradition" (Geldzahler interview, p. 94-95).
As a German painter, the most looming of all traditions is, of course, Expressionism. While Baselitz bold use of color and active brushwork, as in Ralfkopf, recall the work of his modern German predecessors (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner or Emil Nolde, for example), the negation of content redirects interpretation to the work's purely painterly qualities. By the same token, the head, although emptied of content, retains the form of a head and thus is not completely abstract.
As noted by Henry Geldzahler: "It resists Expressionism and it fights Abstractionism" (Geldzahler, pp. 95).