Viewing Room

A.R. Penck


New System Paintings

Considered a Neo-Expressionist, A.R. Penck (1939 – 2017) is best known for his paintings and sculptures characterised by simplified figures and forms, and neo-primitive symbols and patterns. His interest lay in the development of a pictorial language based on a simple system of signs, which would be possible for everyone to decode. The result was a radical reduction in form to a series of outlined stick figures, which he called “Standart”, in reference to the signals associated with commonly known standard symbols. He achieved an abstraction of complex, socio-economic situations in flat, pictorial compositions infused with symbolism. Penck was driven not by any system or rational narrative, but by apparent chaos and emotion. In every drawing and every painting he set out to create a purely visual space where the imagination can thrive and viewers can lose themselves. 
Characteristically simplified in form and ranging from small to large, five anonymous figures traverse this work, with unruly vigour, identified by the work’s title “The Rebellion of the Gamblers” . Surrounded by energetic black strokes carefully devised on a white background, delineating familiar objects such as spears, hammers, an eye and a dice, these pulsating characters exemplify the artist’s vibrant style, heavily informed by the aesthetic of hieroglyphs and cave paintings.
A.R. Penck, The Rebellion of the Gamblers, 2001
oil on canvas, 160,3 x 120,2 cm (63.1 x 47.3 in)
Available
A.R. Penck, Return to the Central System, 1996
acrylic on canvas, 120 x 90 cm (47.2 x 35.4 in)
Sold
One noticeable feature of Penck’s style of drawing and painting was the five different types that emerged: an abstract style dominated by symbols, a figurative style in which caricatured forms dominated, a purely automatic graphic style, an illusionist manner of working and a destructive approach.
It is not always possible to say whether a particular motif or visual element in Penck’s work is realistic, poetic, catastrophic or simply humorous. 
A.R. Penck, Untitled, 1994
oil on canvas, 160 x 130 cm (63 x 51.2 in)
Available
Installation view, A.R. Penck, New System Paintings, Opera Gallery ©
Circles, chevrons and further eye-like shapes, some incised with thinner designs, jostle in a forest of bold symbolic vigour, materialising into a human face in this composition’s upper half. Replete with seemingly ancient mystery, the work’s impact is hieroglyphic, cosmic, and immediate.
A.R. Penck, Untitled, 1990
acrylic on canvas, 199,5 x 119,5 cm (78.5 x 47 in)
Available
A.R. Penck, Untitled
acrylic on paper, 50 x 70 cm (19.7 x 27.6 in)
Sold
“Whoever sees my drawings will see very easily that there are about five different types of images. But we can easily come up with many more, depending on how we characterise them. The first type is the abstract image, which looks like a sign; the second is the figurative drawing; the third, the destructive image. What mattered to me was to show that signs can hide behind other signs, and that my way of thinking makes it possible to pass through this.”
A.R. Penck
A.R. Penck, The Musicians, 1988
acrylic on canvas, 120 x 200 cm (47.2 x 78.7 in)
Available
Painted in 1988, The Musicians exemplifies the complex world of symbols and systems that energised the art of A. R. Penck. With its thick, brazen strokes, the work depicts a dynamic group of musicians, surrounded by graphic icons and geometric patterns against an expanse of white. The subject is a testament to his love of jazz music; Penck himself was a keen drummer and played in the band Triple Trip Touch in the late 1980s.
Installation view, A.R. Penck, New System Paintings, Opera Gallery ©
A.R. Penck, Feuer, Augen, Mann, 1997
acrylic on linen, 60 x 40,3 cm (23.6 x 15.9 in)
Available
Penck’s forms are self-consciously “primitive,” reduced to a graphic simplicity that allows a gestural and emotional immediacy.  
A.R. Penck, Untitled
acrylic on canvas, 100 x 140 cm (39.4 x 55.1 in)
Available
Penck relied on a style that appeared childlike, even at times resembling cave paintings and outsider art.
A.R. Penck, Untitled, 1994-1995
acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 cm (19.7 x 15.7 in)
Available
Installation view, A.R. Penck, New System Paintings, Opera Gallery ©
Penck affirmed that there was an inherent connection between music and his art. "Yes, in the rhythm because I am very interested in rhythm", he said.
A.R. Penck, Extreme, 2007
acrylic on canvas, 120 x 160 cm (47.2 x 63 in)
Sold
A.R. Penck, Small Hierarchy, 2007
acrylic on canvas, 70 x 90 cm (27.6 x 35.4 in)
Sold
“Everything is paradox and schizophrenic, flat and magnificent, extremely reactionary and very progressive, decadent and fascistic. And so am I! And so are you!”
A.R. Penck
 
Penck’s works are layered with meaning and messages, but at the same time instantly legible.
A.R. Penck, Untitled, 1992
mixed media on paper , 100 x 70 cm (39.4 x 27.6 in)
Available
A.R. Penck, Zwischen Feuer und Rauch, 2007
acrylic on canvas, 60 x 70 cm (23.6 x 27.6 in)
Available
Born Ralf Winkler in 1939 in Dresden, Germany, the artist adopted his pseudonym in 1968 after reading the work of the geologist Albrecht Penck. A.R. Penck lived in East Germany until 1980 and unable to exhibit there publicly, he smuggled works out to West Berlin and Switzerland where he was regularly exhibited. With his work becoming renowned for its political and social commentary, Penck was viewed as a dissident artist in the East and as a champion of free speech throughout the West.
The 1980s brought the artist global success; including his participation in the 1984 Venice Biennale as well as in Documenta 5, 6, 7 and 9.  Numerous solo exhibitions worldwide include Kunsthalle Bern; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Fondation Maeght, St. Paul, France; and Fosun Foundation, Shanghai, among many others. His works are held in the permanent collections of leading international institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Neue Nationalgalerie SMPK, Berlin; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Upon emigrating to the West, A.R. Penck lived in London, Dublin and Dusseldorf. He died in Zurich, Switzerland in 2017.