A.R. Penck, born 1939 as Ralf Winkler in Dresden, Germany, was a painter, sculptor and Jazz musician, who played a leading role in European Post-War Art.
In his training as an artist, obstacles were put in Penck's way by the East German government. As an unassimilated GDR citizen, he was first expelled from high school and then denied access to art academy. Not complying with the socialist ethic and aesthetic, the official Artist's Association also rejected his work. Despite the constant threat and disturbance by the GDR's secret service, Penck became an underground artist, who conquered the art scene in western Europe from afar.
His pseudonym refers to the geologist and ice age researcher Albrecht Penck (1858–1945). Interested in theory of information and natural science–particularly geology–and its systems of representation, A.R. Penck developed his own alphabet of basic forms, in the 1960s, to link both. Under the term 'Standart', a combination of the words 'standard' and 'art', this unique pictorial language visually grasps the world and existential issues of humankind by the constant use of varied shapes and line drawings resembling mathematical symbols and other formal languages as found in cave paintings. Penck thus generated a new kind of history painting marked by the simplicity and clarity of his concise forms. The sign for the individual became his trademark: a stick figure with two accentuated power centres–head and sex–interacting with the surrounding forms and signs. The strong colour contrasts that Penck often used in his work reinforced the signal effect of his symbolic language.
With his powerful painting, Penck reclaimed space at Documenta 5 in 1972, where conceptual art and minimalism had previously set the tone. In 1975, the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, honoured him in his first major retrospective. In 1980 he emigrated from East Berlin to Kerben, near Cologne. His first exhibition in 1981 in New York at the Ileana Sonnabend gallery, meant the breakthrough into the USA, for German painting as a whole. In the same year A.R. Penck was awarded the Rembrandt Prize by the Goethe Foundation in Basel. 1985 he received the Artist's Prize of the city of Aachen. 1989- 2003 Penck was a professor at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art. His works are part of the most renowned institutional collections like the the MoMA and the Tate Modern.
In 2017 Penck accompanied his last exhibition in the Fondation Maeght from a distance before passing away in Zurich on 2 May 2017. The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, and the Sammlung Neue Meister, Albertinum, Dresden honoured Penck's work in 2019 and the Kunstmuseum, Den Haag, dedicated an extensive exhibition to the artist in 2020.
Press release courtesy KEWENIG.