Machine paintings

Sigmar Polke The Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda 2002

Sigmar Polke
The Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda 2002
Private collection, courtesy Michael Werner, New York and Cologne
© Sigmar Polke

In 2002 Polke developed a new technique of ‘machine painting’. These are his first completely mechanically-produced paintings and are made by tinting and altering images on a computer and then photographically transferring them onto large sheets of fabric. Up until this point Polke had rejected mechanical processes, preferring to explore the visual effects of mechanical technology by hand. In the 1960s he imitated the dotted effect of commercial newsprint by painstakingly painting each dot with the rubber at the end of a pencil.

These dramatically different techniques, one employing the latest technology and the other devoted to traditional skills and crafts, reflect the changing role of the artist. Although many artists are not involved in the physical production of their work, Polke’s paintings have usually used techniques which are both time-consuming and physically demanding. In the early 1960s, however, he ironically claimed that he was instructed by ‘Higher Powers’ to produce a painting, and he later experimented with spontaneous effects by sparking chemical reactions on canvas. This experimentation with technique reflects Polke’s ongoing research into questions of authorship and originality, and their relevance to making art today.