Painter and sculptor Hans-Georg Kern (German, b.1938) renamed himself Georg Baselitz
in 1961, after his hometown Deutschbaselitz, East Germany. He is renowned as a German enfant terrible
for the nonconformist expression of his paintings, which he developed amidst the East-West divide of a traumatized Post-War Germany. Baselitz grew up in East Germany, exposed solely to communist imagery, and trained in the Socialist Realist style at the School of Visual Art in Berlin-Weissensee. He was accused of “socio-political immaturity” by the school, and subsequently fled to West Berlin in 1957, where he studied the Contemporary movements Art Informel, Tachism, Abstract Expressionism, and Conceptual Art. Rebelling against what he saw as a prescribed abstraction of West German avant-garde painters, Baselitz produced a personal and expressive series of figures in dirt and flesh colors, strongly influenced by Art Brut and the art of the mentally ill. Fascinated by the brutal existentialism of authors like Antonin Artaud
and Charles Baudelaire
, Baselitz painted painfully distorted and abused figures and body parts in his works, infusing them with unsettling tones of sexual obsession.
In his first solo exhibition in Berlin in 1963, he displayed provocative works such as The Big Night Down the Drain
, which portrayed a naked man holding an exaggeratedly large penis. The painting was confiscated by local police, earning the artist further notoriety. Constantly looking for new motifs and subject matter, he created a repertoire of expressive landscapes, animals, still-lifes, hero figures, nudes, and portraits. Over the years Baselitz has increasingly embraced abstraction in his work; he famously began to paint and display his subjects upside down in 1969. In the 1970s, Baselitz joined a group of Neo-Expressionist German artists, occasionally identified as the “New Fauves,” and focused on evocative subject representation and vibrant color in his works. Baselitz began creating sculpture in the 1980s, which kept with his reputation for provocative work. His monumental wooden sculpture Model for a Sculpture
featured a figure making a Nazi salute, which incited controversy during its display at the 1980 Venice Biennale. In recent years, he has revisited some of his older subjects, including heroes, in his Remix
series. His work can be seen as a major mediator between expressive painting traditions and the contemporary revival of the medium.
Baselitz lives and works in Inning am Ammersee.