Georg Baselitz is the winner of this year's Cologne Fine Art
Prize. Worth 10,000, the Prize is sponsored by Koelnmesse and the Cologne-based Bundesverband Deutscher Galerien und Editionen. The Prize is awarded every year in recognition of outstanding achievement and innovation in the fields of printmaking, photography, serial imagery and graphic reproduction techniques.
An exhibition marking the award will showcase prints from Baselitz's early career juxtaposed to important examples of his later graphic work. Forty of the prints, executed between 1964 and 1972, are part of a gift donated by Prinz Franz von Bayern to the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich. The exhibition also features more recent work - aquatints and woodcuts from the Remix' series dating from 2006 to 2008. The selection of graphic work is designed to provide new insights into his iconographic preoccupations and innovative reworking of earlier subject matter - processes present in this later phase of his career and which have dominated his work since 2005.
From the moment Baselitz began to teach himself how to experiment with etching techniques in the printmaking studio at Schloss Wolfsburg in 1964, he was to reject contemporary stylistic conventions with rebellious independence of mind. He saw both Informalism and Pop Art as two obsoletes unsuited to his needs. He found screenprinting and lithography alien to his atavistic search for expression. He turned instead to the historic printmaking techniques of the Old Masters, not then in current usage. His early prints display much of the technical sophistication and creative power present in Mannerist prints. He set out to be a modern artist in the clothing of the Old Masters at their most traditional, using graphic techniques like soft-ground etching, aquatint and chiaroscuro woodcut. These techniques were self-taught and acquired with extraordinary speed and naive tenacity. His rebel sensibility, his distinctly anachronistic printmaking operations and his obstinate determination to reach his objectives, come what may, all this is mirrored in his early prints. They are possessed with an urgency and authenticity that were to be the yardstick for his entire later career.
In 2005, Baselitz experienced a restless burst of creative activity, revisiting the complex imagery of his early painting. This assumed the form of an extraordinary monologue. In the Remix' series it led him quite unexpectedly into the realm of pure painting and into uncharted territory. It is no surprise that he was able to breathe new life into techniques in which, over decades, he had reached heights of extraordinary technical virtuosity - in watercolour and ink drawing, etching and woodcut. Just how closely related the works on paper are to the corpus of paintings is exemplified by the Remix' series - a series which be seen as embracing the sum of his uvre. His most recent work reveals the presence of a system of references based on a subtle network of many-layered mnemonic insights where the distant past and the present seem to meld. This process of interchangeability detectable in his iconography is also clearly apparent in all the different media in which he works. The immediacy of the interaction, the intensity of the cross-fertilization and the reciprocal influences between the genres in his work are phenomena rarely encountered among artists of his generation. The monumental watercolours he executed between March and October 2002 - first exhibited at the Albertina in Vienna shortly afterwards - undoubtedly provided the initial inspiration for the Remix' series. The watercolours seem to anticipate the Remix' work in their light-filled fluidity and vivacity, their subtle tonal transparency and tendency to leave the margin white like a mount, and in their filigree linearity, their element of playfulness and sense of structural lightness characteristic of the spontaneity of the medium. Baselitz also used his new-found freedom to experiment with the rapid interchange of contours and modelling in etching and woodcut techniques, sometimes using iridescent tones and richly vibrant grounds.