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Carol Vogel’s written and video reports (New York Times) on Sigmar Polke’s preparations for the upcoming Biennale have me longing, deeply longing, to see this new body of work, “The Axis of Time.” (One painting from that series is posted on Slow Painting.) Vogel visited him in his Cologne atelier and feasted on a studio overflowing with books, images, objects, materials–some of them edgy and toxic–that continue to inspire and inform Polke’s amazing body of art. His work is wide ranging, even more so than Richter’s. Not only is he a master of mystically beautiful surfaces and juxtaposed imagery, he uses pointilistic dotting like a leitmotif throughout his work. I have lost my breath several times in front of a Polke. He is a modern day alchemist to be sure.

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Vogel’s reporting included some wonderful comments by Polke about his materials and the effects he is striving for. Here is an excerpt:

Mr. Polke returned to painting in earnest in the 1980s, exploring new materials and pigments so voraciously that his studio became an alchemist’s playground. He began experimenting with toxic substances, he said, because store-bought pigments often lacked the brilliant hues that he craved. He has used everything from arsenic and jade to azurite, turquoise, malachite, cinnabar and beeswax. He even extracted mucus from a snail and subjected it to light and oxygen to produce a vivid purple, in much the way the ancient Mycenaeans, Greeks and Romans created dye for their rulers’ robes.

In “Lump of Gold” (1982), he smeared arsenic directly on the canvas. Implicit was the notion that physical materials are as potent as the image itself. “He likes the idea that paintings can provide more than visual stimulation,” Mr. VeneKlasen said. “Large amounts of arsenic can kill, while small portions can heal.”

“Alabaster has its own mystical history, people can understand it, but tourmaline is more sophisticated, glowing,” he said, pointing to a tourmaline sample, with its prismatic crystals. “It forms nice patterns, it’s not as ordinary. This is all about the idea of the most holy things.”

Recently he has focused on how light changes the texture and colors of the canvases. “Light is a metaphoric thing,” taking on diverse emotional meanings, he explained over cups of tea in his living area. “There is green light and red light. Then there is black light, which is mostly danger.”

“I am trying to create another light, one that comes from reflection,” he said of the glow that emanates from the layers on his canvases. “Like celestial light, it gives the indication of new, supernatural things.” Some of the works will resemble golden landscapes, and another a sunrise. Their dusky texture is intended to induce a sort of drowsiness in the viewer.

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What a wonderful pondering on the other dimensions of light! And his description of creating another light source–one that comes from reflection and from the layers of the painting–is as close a description as I can get to on what I am working through in my work as well.

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