‘I want to achieve nothing else other than colour… Only then is freedom achieved’ (I. Knoebel, quoted in D. Lukow, ‘Imi Knoebel’, reproduced at http://www. fiftyfifty-galerie.de/galerie/14/biografie [accessed 12 August 2015].).
Consistently exploiting the possibilities of abstraction and the conceptual legacy of high Modernist principles, Imi Knoebel is one of the most important contemporary German artists. Created in 2003, ATAAAAA is an exquisite example of the artist’s mature practice that encapsulates the central tenets of his inquiry into the complex and multifarious role of colour. As the viewer moves in front of the work, a complex chromatic and formal dialogue unfolds, as an expressive cacophony of luminous yellow, turquoise, chartreuse, earth brown, blood red, violet and pale blue hues is orchestrated into overlapping geometric, grid-like patterns. While quoting Piet Mondrian, Knoebel allows asymmetry, secondary colour tonalities, unexpected colour combinations, as well as traces of brushstrokes to enter this minimalist work. Barely contained luminous colour thereby begins to override the simplicity of form, giving rise to a hybrid object that is at once analytical and emotional, as well as rational and intuitive.
Extending the legacy of European and American Modernism, Knoebel’s practice since the early 1960s has been characterised by a rigorous, but also playful, preoccupation with the language of abstraction. His formative experience of studying a Bauhaus-influenced curriculum at the Darmstadt Werkkunstschule from 1962 - 1964 first sparked his interest in the high modernist principles of Suprematist Kazimir Malevich and Constructivist Piet Mondrian. Transferring to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (1963 – 1971), he continued his investigation into the relationship between space, picture support and colour under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys. Inspired by Beuys, Knoebel’s abstract, minimalist idiom was from early on characterised by a profound search for freedom in concept and execution – leading him to explore photography, light, as well as industrial materials and paints as the building blocks for his unconventional abstract language.
Whereas sculptural light experiments and monochrome line paintings dominated Knoebel’s early years, from the mid-1970s onwards his practice has been characterised by a quest for the specificity of colour. ‘How can one leave such colours only to Mondrian or Newman?’, Knoebel asked. ‘That is the fundamental issue for painters’ (I. Knoebel, quoted in D. Luckow, Imi Knoebel, exh. cat., Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin, 1994, unpaged). Knoebel’s first sustained engagement with colour was prompted by the death of his close friend and former classmate Blinky Palermo, an artist celebrated for his abilities as a colourist, and resulted in the seminal Homage 24 Colors—for Blinky, 1977 (Dia Foundation, New York). Following a tradition of colour study that stretches from Malevich to Mondrian, Ellsworth Kelly to Robert Mangold, Knoebel’s systematic approach strives to explore the generative potential of form and colour, material and structure. As art historian and curator Rudi Fuchs observed, Knoebel is a ‘magician of colours – colours that are extraordinarily sensual’ (R. Fuchs, Imi Knoebel Retrospektive 1968-1996, Ostfildern 1996, p. 8). With ATAAAAA, Knoebel masterfully gives rise to a dynamic object that allows movement and emotion to enter the sensory viewing experience. ‘I want to achieve nothing else other than colour’, Knoebel once stated. ‘... Only then is freedom achieved’ (I. Knoebel, quoted in D. Lukow, ‘Imi Knoebel’, http://www.fiftyfifty-galerie.de/ galerie/14/biografie [accessed 12 August 201