In reference to commercial printing systems, Untitled harks back to Polke's Rasterbilder of the 1960s and yet also manifests Polke’s exceptional return to the medium of painting in the 1980s after a decade preoccupied with photography and film. However, Polke’s remarkable employment of colour and his extraordinary process of layering – to create the effect of translucency – also recall the artist’s early apprenticeship at a stained glass factory in Dusseldorf. As such, Polke’s phenomenal work of the 1980s exhibits complex and multifarious influences, constituting an exceptionally productive period of the artist’s career. Indeed, the very year Untitled was executed, Polke received the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennale, making 1986 one of the most significant and formative years of the artist’s career.
Untitled recalls industrial printing processes through Polke’s celebrated employment of the half-tone dot pattern, which permeates the foreground of the present work in a veil of acrylic black paint. Having first achieved critical acclaim with his ‘Rasterbilder’ in the 1960s, Polke’s pattern refers to the tonal register of small black dots in differing densities that has enabled images to be mass-reproduced in newspaper photographs, consumer packaging and magazine ads since the late Nineteenth Century. Polke returned to the half-tone dot pattern in the 1980s, and in the present work, the artist seemingly enlarges a matrix of dots to an extreme scale, whereby the dots themselves become a vigorous abstract layer superimposed over the composition. Thus in Untitled, Polke masterfully transforms industrial imagery into an expression of fine art. While the matrix of dots appears to be commercially reproduced, they are in fact painstakingly hand-painted, and here the artist might offer a subtle critique of the pervasiveness of mechanically reproduced and serially-repeated images in contemporary society. Such notions of seriality, repetition and graphic design undoubtedly evoke the work of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the 1960s and 1970s, and the latter’s experimentation with Benday dots in paintings such as Brushstroke with Splatter (1966) offer a powerful correlation to Polke’s visual manipulations.
The half-tone dots on the surface of Untitled are rendered above a chromatic layer of turquoise and white painterly markings, which convey Polke’s hand through gestural brushwork and arbitrary drips. In yet another compositional stratum, red fabric printed with white dots constitutes the painting's ground and support. Polke began using printed fabric in 1964, and throughout his diverse oeuvre such fabric exhibits an electric façade on top of which visual chaos prevails. In his exploration of layered texture, form and colour, Polke radically deconstructs the definition of fine art and rebuilds it through his own highly unique and unparalleled expression.
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