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Neo-expressionist artist A. R. Penck dies

May 3, 2017

German artist A. R. Penck has died at the age of 77. The artist and his work personified Germany's division during the Cold War.

Bildergalerie A.R. Penck
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kegler

A. R. Penck was one of Germany's most internationally recognized artists, whose style stood out for its simplicity - as well as for its confrontational and often ironic imagery. His colorful images depicting primitive stick figures with erect phalluses, biting dogs, skulls and crosses and much more were as much a sign of protest as they were sheer provocation. His painting, prints and sculptures were considered in equal parts figurative and abstract.

A. R. Penck sculpture
A self-taught artist, A. R. Penck also created sculptures and played jazz musicImage: Getty Images/T. Lohnes

Born Ralf Winkler in Dresden on October 9, 1939 - a month after the onset of World War II – A. R. Penck grew up under the Communist regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), where his outspoken style made him many enemies from an early age on. The so-called Ministry for State Security, known more commonly as the "Stasi," started first confiscating his works when he was only 30 years old.

Penck, a self-taught artist, was considered a dissident on account of the imagery in his works, which first led to him being rejected from the GDR's official Association of Visual Artists (Verband Bildender Künstler der DDR) and by 1980 resulted in his formal expatriation. Penck moved to West Germany, where his work was appreciated and recognized for its artistic merit.

A. R. Penck painting
A. R. Penck's paintings can be recognized by their rich use of color and recurring themes of freedom - and lots of phallusesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

Ahead of his time

A. R. Penck's work came to embody the free spirit of the late 1960s. It symbolizes free speech at a time when the end of the Cold War was nowhere in sight. Penck's artistic language picked up on the theme of a divided Germany as much as his personal biography did: His imagery symbolized the eternal search for freedom and stressed the value of individualism.

A. R. Penck painting
A. R. Penck's works were rejected and even confiscated in Communist GermanyImage: picture-alliance /dpa/S. Glaubitz

Later on Penck was considered a representative of Germany's "Neue Wilde" neo-expressionist movement. In the 1980s, he toured around the world with his work, having shows in West Berlin, London, Paris and New York. By the late 1980s he also served as professor at the prestigious Academy of Art in Düsseldorf.

In his later years he also turned his attention to one of his favorite activities outside of the realm of art: A. R. Penck was an avid drummer and a member of the free jazz group "Triple Trip Touch" (also known as TTT), gigging with some of the most outstanding jazz performers of the late 1980s and 1990s. Penck moved to Dublin, Ireland, in order to dedicate more of his time to his passion for jazz.

Exhibition in France

A. R. Penck's could not attend the opening of his latest exhibition, a retrospective at the Fondation Maeght in the south of France, as his health had reportedly been suffering for quite a while already. That show is expected to continue until June 18.


Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson