Penck formulated the basis of his mature style while living in East Berlin from 1963 to 1972. In 1969 he smuggled his works to Cologne for a one-man show. Throughout this period he exercised a strong influence, not only because he addressed political and social problems in his pictures but also because of his ability to formulate models or concepts giving a general, comprehensive picture of the world.
Limiting himself in sometimes brutally simplified paintings to figures formed from simple constellations of lines, combined with other pictorial signs and emblems, he gradually stripped his painting of its tonal relationships; this served to heighten the legibility and symbolic content of graphically arresting motifs exposed against neutral backgrounds. Through such means he established a state of tension between the articulation and lack of optical ambiguity of his figures and signs, on the one hand, and their formal painterly independence on the other. The powerful expressiveness of his work can be attributed to the dynamic contrast of spontaneity and discipline.
Penck was also active as a jazz musician, releasing his first record album in 1979 and making appearances in groups or as a solo percussionist. He also published theoretical writings, sometimes juxtaposing or interspersing them with poems.
On obtaining an exit visa from East Germany in 1980, Penck settled in Cologne, although he made frequent visits to Israel in 1983–4 before moving to London. Penck remained in the West, living and working in Dublin, London, Düsseldorf and Cologne.
A. R. Penck: Penck Mal TM (exh. cat., texts D. Koepplin and A. R. Penck; Berne, Ksthalle, 1975)
A. R. Penck: Gemälde und Handzeichnungen (exh. cat., ed. S. Gohr; Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Ksthalle, 1981)
A. R. Penck: Mein Denken, intro. K. Gallwitz (Frankfurt am Main, 1986)
A. R. Penck: Sculptures in Bronze (exh. cat., London, Waddington Gals, 1986)
A. R. Penck (exh. cat., ed. L. Grisebach; W. Berlin, N.G.; Zurich, Ksthaus; 1988)
A. R. Penck: Skulpturen und Zeichnungen, 1971–1987 (exh. cat., ed. C. Haenlein; Hannover, Kestner-Ges., 1988)
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