Born in Dessau, Germany – a town known for once being the central hub of the Bauhaus movement – Knoebel’s style clearly emerged out of a fusion of architecture and art. Whilst Knoebel never studied directly under the Bauhaus school, one can clearly view Knoebel’s work as an extension of the design movement: geometric compositions that are reminiscent of Josef Albers and vibrant colour combinations that call back to Wassily Kandinsky. Yet, despite these local influences, Knoebel succeeded in transforming the foundations of Bauhaus into a style that is distinctly his own.
In the 1960s, studying under the watchful eye of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, Knoebel developed two fascinations: suprematism and industrial material. Initially working on a monochromatic level with malleable textures, such as plywood and Masonite, Knoebel soon found limitation in purely the material. It was upon the sudden death of his classmate Blinky Palermo that Knoebel delved into a world of colour. His pieces – once constricted to black, brown or white – now pulsated with hues once unimaginable to the artist. Colour was Imi Knoebel’s calling, and it found a harmonious match in the 90s when the artist started incorporating aluminium into his practice.
Over three metres tall, IIAAOO envelops the viewer with its sheer scale. Four aluminium squares slot together with mathematical exactness. Knoebel’s use of colour is at once simple, yet thoroughly complex. Three glowing panels of yellows and green are offset by a pink square layered with strips of contrasting colours. The calm of the single tone squares next to the chaos of the contrasting square creates a fascinating dialogue.
Reflecting on his practice, Imi Knoebel notes that “everything has been done already… Yves Klein has painted his canvas blue, Lucio Fontana has cut slashes into his. What’s left? If you want to do something, to stay alive, you have to think of something at least as radical” (Imi Knoebel cited in: Kate Connolly, ‘Artist Imi Knoebel’, The Guardian, 15 July 2015, online). There is indeed an inherent radicality to Knoebel’s artistry; colours that constantly excite and materials that often surprise. His ongoing quest to find the meaning of these two pillars of art – colour and material – proves him to be a worthy addition to the lineage of art history.
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