A reimagination of a motif that the artist had delved into before, Zwischengrün was hung in the artist’s office in Schloss Derneburg for over five years. Here, Baselitz explores the unconscious, creating a painterly void where repressed thoughts are thrust to the foreground through the inversion of the image. Everything that has been suppressed is at once flipped; suddenly Baselitz has turned the world on its head. Physically painting this series of works on the floor, the present lot is exemplary of the artist’s technique of crawling on all fours in his studio to create his canvasses, often leaving traceable feet and hand marks, as slightly tangible in the present work, like distant traces of primitive and carnal desire.
The image of the dog in Baselitz’s oeuvre can also be traced back to his earlier work, where dogs were utilised as heraldic symbols of an allegorical ideal. After moving to the Swabian countryside in 1966, Baselitz entered a new chapter in his practice and began working on his Frakturbilder, employing a visual library of traditional German motifs, such as huntsmen, bears, cows and dogs. Removing and redeploying elements of the composition, Baselitz created a new breed of aesthetic archetypes based on folkloric imagery. Through the fracturing of his idyllic protagonists, Baselitz removed their symbolic potency; surgically distorting the subject matter, the artist deconstructed motifs that had once been so proudly Germanic. Whereas other German post war artists, such as Gerhard Richter, obscured traumatic imagery of the Second World War in his pivotal photorealistic paintings, Baselitz employed a form of expressive distortion to experiment with darker facades of cultural memory and the national psyche. With their muscular bodies and snubbed snouts, the dogs portrayed in the Fraktur works are emblematic of the tougher life of the mythical rural ideal. From 1969, Baselitz’s technique of rotating his artworks by 180 degrees further liberated his imagery from symbolic power, detracting the objectifying gaze of the viewer in order to free his robust sitters from subjective associations. In Zwischengrün, the dog motif has become domesticated; the curled, long-haired coat of the dog is tactile, his innocent gaze loyal and trusting. Baselitz’s dog is presented in an almost quasi-religious manner, in a similar reverence as one views the Madonnas by Raphael, such as the infamous Sistine Madonna. As we gaze up at the central figure, the frenetic ochre and black brushstrokes of the artist channel a fervent vitality which fills the canvas. It is this biting wit, combined with the multiple readings of Baselitz’s work, which makes his paintings so unique and continually intriguing. Self-referential in subject matter, Zwischengrün perfectly conveys the artist’s key preoccupation that our perception of events, people, animals, colours and shapes can be completely altered through presentation. Like a kaleidoscope, the artist expertly filters subject matter through his variety of compositions and his rich tapestry of freed associations, completely altering the viewer’s opinion at every glance.
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