A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler)

Thoughts in a Kibbutz


Not on display

A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler) 1939 – 2017
Engraving on paper
Image: 645 × 936 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).

P77022 Thoughts in a Kibbutz 1984

Engraving 645 x 936 (25 3/8 x 36 13/16)

The title of P77022 refers to the Degania Kibbutz which lies only a mile from Israel's border with Jordan.

The image is dominated by a jagged and scratched diagonal line which bisects a firmly outlined triangle and one of a group of three circles. According to Penck, this diagonal is intended to evoke the presence of the border. The triangle and circles, universal and unchanging forms, break the border and symbolise the enduring border conflicts of the region.

To the right of the border, yet not confined by it, is a crouching, three-headed figure which the artist explains is a vision of an African demon: a massive and ungainly symbolic representation of conflict and disorder. On the other side of the border are images of the Jewish community which are smaller in scale. The adult and child evoke Penck's visit to the Kibbutz kindergarten where he helped conduct a drawing class. To the left of the pair is the face of an old German woman poet who left Germany in the 1920s and who was able to talk to Penck at length and show him her poems.

The transparent cube containing a globe that is placed to the right of these figures is a motif which first appeared in Penck's work while still living in East Germany. It refers to ‘Russian theoretics'. Its use here is explained by Penck as symbolising the large population of Russian Jews in Israel and, more specifically, the central input of Russian Socialist ideas in shaping the structure and ideals of Kibbutz life. According to the artist, it is also intended as a visual and conceptual contrast to the disorder represented by the three-headed creature. Jewish culture is again evoked in the naked figure who holds, in one hand, the characteristic Jewish candlestick. His right arm straddles half the composition and the hand hovers over a group of two flying birds and a black saucer shape. These birds are German eagles and the image was suggested to Penck by a visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, Jerusalem, where an eternal flame burns for the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Finally, to the right of this area is a representation of the artist himself, the ‘Standart' man, carrying a book in his right hand.

The composition, like that of P77020, employs a range of styles which reflect Penck's interest in systems of visual notation and their symbolic effect. The range here includes the abstract cube and globe, the metaphorical ‘Africa' figure, Penck's own ‘signature' style in the ‘Standart' type and the more naturalistic drawing of Kibbutz life. Each style is given different technical characteristics, in the way line is created and in the density of tone achieved. A central concept, that of the border, is driven through the image and on both sides of it the image broadens in complexity, reflecting a stream of consciousness thought process conveying the variegated impressions made by this visit to a Kibbutz.

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 444-5

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