A testament to the sumptuous beauty of Polke's fascinating blend of unconventional materials upon the canvas, Untitled offers subtle layers of rich amber tones, infused with luminescent and deep umber hues. Recalling at once aged parchment, photographs of deep space nebulas, and the caves and landscape drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Polke’s Untitled successfully transmutes base materials into potent atmosphere. The title of Polke's 1986 West German pavilion exhibition was Athanor, the term for an alchemical kiln. The artist was renowned for his fascination with alchemy as a system of understanding nature without recourse to positivistic science, and Untitled compellingly conveys a sense of deep mysticism. Composed of unconventional materials, the work becomes an arena within which ancient sediments and emblematic media confound contemporary expectations regarding the primacy of oil paint in the neo-expressionist moment. The present work hence establishes Polke as existing independently from the strictures of history and convention, even as his fecund engagements with these canons were pursued with rigour and passion.
Polke’s sheer technical and aesthetic innovation is supremely represented by Untitled, where the resin on polyester fibre coalesces to form an immense abstract canvas of phenomenal beauty and enduring impact. The present work is archetypal of Polke’s best invention whereby an emphasis on qualities of light and transparency permeate his work, and the painting appears informed in this way by an apprenticeship the artist undertook in a stained-glass factory in Dusseldorf. A powerful sense of this training is provided here by the contrasts of heavily saturated areas imbued with luscious pigment, against the glassy translucence of its resin-coated support. Polke’s painting is fundamentally revolutionary and anti-conventional. As made succinctly manifest by the present work, in the words of Tate curator Alex Farquharson, "techniques such as these represented a radical affront to the unity of painting as understood by the Modernist tradition. Polke's works were everything painting wasn't supposed to be: vulgar, mocking, parodic, decorative, heterotopic, discontinuous, self-reflexive and self-critical... By the 1980s Polke was the consummate and emblematic Postmodern painter" (Alex Farquharson, 'Sigmar Polke', Frieze Magazine, Issue 81, March 2004).
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