‘The processes are what interests me. The picture is not really necessary. The unforeseeable is what turns out to be interesting’
(S. Polke, quoted in Sigmar Polke Farbproben-Materiealversuche- Probierbilder aus den Jahren 1973-86, exh. cat., Galerie Klein, Bad Münstereifel, 1999, unpaged).
With its encounter of splashed, poured, dripped and hand-painted marks traced over a psychedelically luminescent ground, Untitled, 1986, is a shimmering kaleidoscope of gestural abstract explorations. The near-alchemical intermingling of colours, forms and traces is executed in the all-over style that distinguishes much of Polke’s work from the mid-1980s, a fertile period of process-driven experimentation for him. In Untitled the infinite possibilities of painting are explored, its variations in process and texture: the paint drips and spreads across the canvas as if infused with inner, independent life, building up in watery hues of light blue, orange, red, pink and violet coalescing into barely-distinguishable layers. Paint and resin mix and flow across the canvas, creating hypnotic blends of texture, colour and forms. Polke’s gestural vocabulary is vast: deliquescent passages and splashes of colour suggest the free pouring of media, revealed in all its fluidity. The flow of ochre-coloured lines dripping impossibly towards the right-hand side of the canvas reveals Polke’s deft manipulation of this medium, rotating his canvas to encourage the drips of paint to spread across the composition. Hints of impasto meet a thin wash of brown energetically expanding through the canvas, while abstract passages of poured paint collide with more defined hand-painted elements, such as the elegant black arrow-shaped line recurring in Polke’s sign-making.
Reflecting the artist’s near-mystical attitude toward painting, Untitled concocts a magical potion before our eyes, forging a hyper-reality through its infinitely rich flux of visual phenomena. Establishing a distance from his earlier Pop-inspired aesthetic of the 1970s and early 1980s, Untitled exemplifies Polke’s increasing embrace of chance as a fundamental part of the painting process, departing from tradition following his journeys through Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 1970s. Inspired by his travels and driven by his exploratory use of psychedelic drugs, Polke began to base his pictures on the simultaneous clash of points of view colliding within the fixed environment of the picture plane. Untitled, with its materials dripping across the composition according to the unset laws of chance, presents itself as an unfathomable enigma casts a captivating spell over the viewer. As Polke has written, ‘The processes are what interests me. The picture is not really necessary. The unforeseeable is what turns out to be interesting’ (S. Polke, quoted in Sigmar Polke Farbproben-Materiealversuche- Probierbilder aus den Jahren 1973-86, exh. cat., Galerie Klein, Bad Münstereifel, 1999, unpaged). In this sense, Untitled is the unveiling of the invisible and the unpredictable, a hypnotic reverie of fluid chaos and liquid matter, a daydream of melting hues and visual stimuli. With Untitled it becomes clear that, as Sean Rainbird pointed out on the occasion of Polke's first exhibition at Tate in 1995, ‘Painting, far from being a redundant practice in an era of mechanical, electronic and digital communications is shown by Polke to be a resourceful medium equipped to investigate the complexities of contemporary experience’ (S. Rainbird, ‘Seams and Appearances’, in Sigmar Polke: Join the Dots, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1995, p. 9).