For the series entitled Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear painter, paint for me) 1981, Martin Kippenberger hired Mr Werner, a Berlin sign painter, to make paintings based on images supplied by the artist. This gesture of handing over the execution of the paintings was a riposte to the rising stars of the German art world at the time, such as Helmut Middendorf and Reiner Fetting,who had based their reputation on a signature style of painterly expressionism. Four of the twelve paintings in this series are presented here.
Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear painter, paint for me) establishes many of the concepts and preoccupations that would reappear in Kippenberger’s work over the next twenty-five years. Kippenberger the performer, for example, is already evident through his (partly disguised) presence in two of the paintings: seen from behind as a drinking partner on a bar crawl outside a Düsseldorf hangout, and as the sophisticated tourist sitting casually on a discarded couch on a street corner in New York. The Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear painter, paint for me) series also introduces many of Kippenberger’s other favourite topics (aside from himself): the equal treatment of commodities, kitsch and culture and not least of all the act of hiring someone else to produce his own artwork.
Even while painting with his own hand, Kippenberger maintained his critical stance. Blass vor Neid steht er vor deiner Tür (Pale with Envy, He Stands Outside Your Door) 1981, for instance, comprises twenty-one individual canvases shown together as one work, but each canvas has a separate title and there is no consistent style. The artist pastiches early twentieth-century abstraction or paints figurative imagery with expressionist impasto, using imagery as diverse as a nude descending a staircase (inspired by photographer Helmut Newton and artist Marcel Duchamp), still life studies or a squeezed line of silicone attached to the canvas, titled Werner, ein stolzer Wurm (Werner, A Proud Worm) – an apparent reference to the Lieber Maler, maler mir sign painter. Kippenberger rejects the traditional idea that an artist works to achieve a signature style, creating instead a persona that shifts in multiple directions at once.