Norbert Bisky is a German figurative painter. His practice is an act of 'exorcising' his subconscious fears and desires, unintentionally emulating the Socialist Realist paintings of his youth in the GDR with heroic male figures that are displaced in a maelstrom of chaos and disaster.Read More
Bisky was born in Leipzig, and his family moved to the East Berlin suburb of Marzahn when he was ten years old. Bisky was brought up in a communist family; his father, Lothar Bisky, was the director of the Konrad Wolf Film Academy and later became the longstanding chair of the Party of Democratic Socialism. His mother, Almuth Bisky, was a high-ranking culture official in East Germany and reportedly worked for the secret police.
It was when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 that Bisky decided to pursue a career in art. After deserting his military service in the East Germany's National People's Army, the newfound freedom of reunification gave him a euphoric sense of endless possibility.
Bisky worked odd jobs as a waiter in a luxury hotel in Grunewald and in an old people's home before enrolling at the Berlin University of the Arts in 1994. He initially studied German language, art history, and literature but quickly changed to fine arts, where he was taught under the artist Georg Baselitz.
Bisky also worked alongside artist Jim Dine in a summer academy in Salzburg from 1994 to 1995. He won the Erasmus Scholarship in 1995 and spent a year in Madrid at the Complutense University. In 1999, Bisky returned to Berlin to complete his Masters under Baselitz, whom Bisky describes as a key influence.
Norbert Bisky's practice draws inspiration from the world around him, always with an element of the autobiographical in his enveloping canvases.
Often large-scale, his canvases are produced from Polaroid pictures or images from magazines. His male figures are heavily idealised and almost overexposed, much like the hopeful images of his childhood in the GDR. Bisky's paintings feature bright primary colours and energetic brushstrokes that add an immediacy to the dream-like and often violent scenes he creates.
During preparations for an exhibition in Mumbai in 2008, Bisky and gallery owner Andreas Osarek narrowly escaped a terror attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This first-hand experience of destruction influenced his series 'Aesthetics of Violence' (2009), made for the Haifa Museum of Art in Israel, which places his idealised male figures amidst scenes of carnage.
Bisky's work Excess Luggage (2008) represented his attempt to process what he had witnessed, as well as the struggle with his newfound world view, which remains a common theme in his work. The two-metre canvas displays a decapitated head flying into the air above the catastrophic remains of tower blocks, the title a cynical reference to the banality of violence perpetuated by the media.
Bisky's direct confrontation with violence continued to develop in his practice, particularly after a studio swap with Israeli artist Erez Israeli in Tel Aviv in 2015.
The aim of the project was to find out to what extent the artist's environment affects creation and to record the different perspectives of the German and Israeli artists. Initially, Bisky hoped to record scenes of daily life, but eventually decided he could not ignore the political upheaval that he found himself immersed in while in Tel Aviv.
The title for the series 'Balagan' derives from the Persian for disorder, confusion and chaos, but is also a common word in Israel to describe a sense of joie de vivre. The resulting works were the largest Bisky had ever created, spanning entire walls of the gallery space and placing his figures below a large blue sky blown open by billowing smoke.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bisky created two series, 'Rant' and 'Pompa' (both 2019), that represent his experiences of Soviet Berlin and the chaotic period immediately after its collapse. 'Rant' was staged in Villa Schöningen in Potsdam near the famous Bridge of Spies, while the more euphoric-toned series 'Pompa' was completed for St. Matthäus Church next to the former border between East and West Berlin.
'Rant' featured some paintings from Bisky's early career under Baselitz, along with smaller works on paper, and his trademark monumental pieces. The works are unified by the repetition of figures falling into oblivion and youths in military uniforms, which reflect Bisky's own time in military camp when he was 15. By contrast, the artworks displayed in 'Pompa' were fixed to the roof of the church, featuring scenes of chaos and excess that followed the end of the regime.
Norbert Bisky has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include DISINFOTAINMENT, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig (2021); Metrocake, KÖNIG TOKIO, Tokyo (2020); Berlin Sunday, Le Conforte Moderne, Poitiers (2020); Pompa, St. Matthäus-Kirche, Berlin (2019); and Rant, Villa Schöningen, Potsdam (2019).
Group exhibitions include WasserLust ... Badende in der Kunst!, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel (2021); Deep Blue, Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vermont (2021); Inaugural Exhibition, KÖNIG SEOUL, Seoul (2021); ZUSAMMEN. 30 Jahre Wiedervereinigung aus künstlerischer Perspektive, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin (2020); and Features — 10 Sichten auf Berlin, Museum Nikolaikirche, Berlin (2020).
Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2021