In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler) 1939 – 2017
Engraving on paper
Image: 645 × 934 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.

A.R. Penck born 1939

P77019 - P77022 Expedition to the Holy Land 1984

Four prints from a portfolio of 15 prints on Arches paper, each sheet 750 x 1062 (29 1/2 x 41 13/16); watermark ‘ARCHES' b.r.; printed at Burston Graphic Centre, Jerusalem and published by Joshua Gessel in an edition of 50
Each inscribed ‘a.r. penck' below image b.r. and ‘10/50' below image b.l.
Purchased from Edward Totah Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Lit: Siegfried Gohr, ‘A.R. Penck: Expedition to the Holy Land ...', Flash Art, no.114 Nov. 1983, pp.56-58

Penck visited parts of Israel and its occupied territories in January 1983 as a guest of the publisher and collector Joshua Gessel. Gessel had initially invited several European artists to undertake a project involving travel and creative work and Penck was the only artist amongst those approached who eventually accepted the proposal. The tour was extensive and eventful, embracing the Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian de facto borders, as well as the Golan Heights, Nazareth, the West Bank, Bethlehem, Akko, Arad, Tiberius, the Degania Kibbutz, the Dead Sea, Eilat and Tel Aviv. Following this journey, the artist spent a four week period working at the Burston Graphic Centre on a portfolio of prints which, according to the artist, ‘was to offer a kind of artistic resumé and comment on what I had seen and experienced' (Gohr 1983, p.56).

The portfolio ‘Expedition to the Holy Land' comprises 15 prints in all, three each in the following techniques: drypoint engraving, black and white lithography, colour lithography, aquatint etching and screenprinting. All the prints conform to a similar rectangular format. This was deliberate:

These rectangles have appeared in my work since 1977. The beginning was very strange. There were photographs of my first big show abroad in Bern in 1975, that were distorted because they had been shot using a wide-angle lens and the squares had become rectangles. Suddenly I noticed that a whole new tension entered the work. ... I imagined something like a travel prospectus ... landscapes are wide. The images are more or less presentations of events, my impressions of Israel, and so I found the wide format quite suitable (Gohr 1983, pp.56-7).

The various techniques used allowed Penck to approach the experience of his visit in a number of different ways. For example, the screenprints deal with Israel's political situation as it stood while Penck was there. The colour lithographs concentrate on the landscape itself and its geological structure, while the black and white lithographs, in contrast, reveal Penck's personal reactions to works of sculpture that interested him on this visit. The aquatint etchings are more abstract, exploring black and white contrasts and personal symbolism and, finally, the drypoint engravings are, in essence, travel sketches, crowded with detail and often presenting several layers of narrative imagery in various scales.

The complexity and breadth of events taking place while Penck was visiting the region is remarkable:

There was the biggest postwar stock market crash on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and I experienced that through people's reactions and through the newspapers. I met opposition politician Abba Eban. I also met an army colonel. Then there was the big demonstration with the assassination of Grunzweig, followed by Kahan Commission's report recommending changes in government. There was a lot of uproar while I was there. It was a very dramatic period which came to a climax with the suppression of Raful, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence forces, as a result of the Sabra and Shattila massacres. And finally the grenade thrown at the German Embassy. All that flowed into my work - the military situation, the sculpture situation and the political situation. ... The internal strife is very strong and that is what I wanted to show in my prints. It is a kind of model situation because there are many problems and conflicts to be tackled and resolved that concern others too ... the future of humanity (Gohr 1983, p.58).

These events were not merely the incidental background to Penck's work in the region: ‘Every action on the plate somehow corresponds to a motif in reality. Whether it is executed powerfully or more sensitively and with restraint, the actual graphic work corresponds to my own experience' (Gohr 1983, p.56).

P77020 Concept 1984

Engraving 645 x 934 (25 3/8 x 36 3/4)

P77020 gathers a number of separate and interconnected events together in a multi-layered fusion of experiences.

Just to the right of centre is a portrait of the Israeli sculptor Tumarkin whose own work inspired Penck's black and white lithographs in the portfolio. Tumarkin, like Penck, is of German origin and left East Germany for Israel in the 1950s. To the left of the face is a schematic design employing three circles and various crossing lines. According to Penck, this denotes the ground plan of a military establishment where Tumarkin had recently created a sculptural installation. Immediately to the right of the face is a fully represented female figure, the artist's girlfriend, depicted in front of a curtain. On the lower left hand edge of the print is a stalking lion, a motif taken from the ‘Lion Gate' in Jerusalem which marks the start of the Via Crucis (‘The Way of The Cross'). Above the lion is a small family group of mother and child and seated male. The latter was an army colonel and head of a helicopter unit who Penck was taken to meet by Gessel. The colonel's high rank is signified by the notation of groups of five dots and crosses arranged like the face on a dice and drawn from Penck's memory of a general's insignia in the film ‘Star Wars'. His occupation is further specified by the representation of a helicopter in flight to his right. Above the group is a large, mushrooming cloud which appears ominously militaristic but which, in reality, depicts an extraordinary olive tree in the colonel's garden which appeared to the artist just like the immediate aftermath of an atomic explosion. The bottles by the colonel's feet denote the hospitality of the colonel and his family.

In the lower, central area of the engraving is a scene using fragile stick-like figures who appear to be engaged in physical labour and who recall stylistically a rudimentary, pre-historic sign language. While this kind of hieroglyphic notation is ubiquitous in Penck's work, here, according to the artist, it refers specifically to ancient wall drawings seen on a visit to the copper mine at Timma, north of Eilat, which dates back to the time of Solomon. Penck and his companions speculated as to whether these drawings might have been the creation of Jewish slave-workers and the image, which shows a figure observing a group labouring, suggests the master-slave relationship. The idea is repeated, in bolder black lines, immediately above this scene, in a vignette of a vehicle driven by two figures motivated by a much larger figure following behind.

P77020 is littered with zig-zag lines and triangles which reciprocate the structure of the schematic figures which are themselves closely related to Penck's ‘Standart' archetypal man (see entry on P77019). Of interest to the artist, in this context, is the way that the triangle near the olive tree cloud, when overlayed with the white triangle beneath the female figure to the right, creates an image of the Jewish Star. Similar correspondences punctuate the field.

In P77020 Penck employs various densities of line and he also uses stark comparisons of black and white. This is most notable in the two curved and pointed forms which are separated by the curvilinear tendrils which end a long, slanting diagonal slightly to left of centre.

According to the artist, this is a positive/negative balance which is primarily artistic in intention but also serves to highlight the element of conflict, conflicting impressions of a divided nation, which is the concept of the title. The balance is offset by the grey area above Tumarkin's head.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.441 and 443-4

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