Although Sigmar Polke began incorporating appropriated photographic imagery into his paintings as early as 1963, photography played an increasingly important role in his art from the late 1960s on. Polke's earliest photographic experiments reveal an interest in the empirical world around him which he documented in a straight-forward, if imaginative fashion. Following his 1971 Paris series, Polke's photographic imagery became increasingly more ambiguous and ruptured as he began playing with the medium itself to create a complex layering of representational and abstract motifs, generating ever new levels of meaning. "Polke's use of intuition and the unconscious in his darkroom experiments roughly parallels the more refined experiments of his Dada and Surrealist predecessors. Like these artists, Polke benefited from the painter's vision and liberated the medium from the central perspective of the objective lens." (P. Schimmel in Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures Vanish, Los Angeles, 1985, p. 64)
In the early 1980's, Polke turned to the drawings of Antonin Artaud for one of his most personally revealing photographs, Artaud: Zwei kleine Zeichnungen (Artaud: Two Small Drawings). Artaud, a writer, poet and director briefly associated with the Surrealists and known for his Theatre of Creulty manifestos of the 1930s, was also an artist whose highly expressive drawings reflect his obsessions with death, sexuality, identity and the unconscious. In Artaud: Zwei kleine Zeichnungen, Polke appropriates two of Artaud's drawings, The Minotaur (fig. 1) which apppears, however obscured, on the left portion of this work, and one of his numerous self-portraits (similar to the one reproduced in fig. 2) which appears on the right.
As Paul Schimmel states, "In this work, he (Polke) practically assaults a photograph of two portrait drawings by Artaud with overlays, chemicals, penlight, and hand-colored additions. On the left is a portrait of a horned figure; on the right, the portrait of a male with viscous green fluid running out of his mouth and a hat on his head. The double portrait, perhaps a metaphor for the artist himself, provided Polke with an opportunity to address the vexing issue of the unconscious, to explore his ability to represent sexual and primitive states of being, and to confront the unknowable dark side of his own creativity, for all of which Artaud provided a historical antecedent." (ibid, p. 76)
Graphite and wax crayon on paper 24.7/8 x 18.7/8in. (63 x 48cm.)
Graphite on paper 14 x 10in. (37 x 27cm.)
Collection Florence Loeb