Markus Lüpertz was first known as a representative of the new German Expressionism. In the 1970s, the minimalism and conceptual art that were centered on the United States was popular in the world, while the new expressionists from Germany were doing opposite things. They insisted on returning to easel painting, seeking new artistic inspiration from the past cultural traditions, especially German expressionism tradition which had been suppressed by the Nazis.
In the new expressionism, Markus Lüpertz is not as famous as Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, JorgImmendorff and Penck. It seems that Markus Lüpertz’s work is short of Kiefer’s historical mystery and Baselitz’s bizarre political work. Different from the others, Markus Lüpertz pays more attention to art itself rather than society, politics and his easel paintings which have blended two seemingly irreconcilable international leading trends: Reproductive pop and abstract expressionism. Markus Lüpertz calls the abstract meaning in his painting the dithyramb. At the same time, he doesn’t refuse technology in his representational painting, often finding topics with an European historical origin. His work does not care about the narrative, nor preaching, but constantly challenges the problems of art itself that is faced by artists from Poussin to Cezanne and Picasso.
Markus Lüpertz’s characteristic rebellious spirit is affected by the German philosopher Nietzsche, presenting the independent individual spirit that fights against death. Nietzsche once enthusiastically praised Dionysus from ancient Greek myths. In the early book entitled The Birth of Tragedy 1872, Nietzsche regarded Dionysus’ anti-rational and individualistic spirit as the backbone of the ancient Greek civilization. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he borrowed a Dionysian figure like Zarathustra, boldly stating astonishing languages to advocate a personality: This is my way, what about you?” You don’t need to care about what others say, “Which is the right way?” “Never has.”
Like Zarathustra, Markus Lüpertz converts the praise of Dionysian to the confirmation of the self-artistic personality. From 1964 to 1976, many of his works were themed on “Dithyramb”, to praise the Dionysus’s carnival. In these works, the Dionysian is not the content of the painting, but the soul. It gives the painting splendid aesthetics, the passion of life and poetically crazy. Babylon –Dithyramb VI, 1975 depicts a modern building which is straight from the clouds. Part of the building seems to be rising, while another part seems to be collapsing. Markus Lüpertz used powerful and smooth abstract lines to outline the top of the building, the extended winding and solid concrete entities, mutually echo the above abstract factors, making the composition of painting have an intense sense of buildings and producing the rising vigor of modernism. Markus Lüpertz said the imagination about the modern architecture was effected by the trademark of the 20th Century Fox Film Company Film Corp. in the United States, especially the three-dimensional dynamic effect of three-dimensional fonts showcased on the screen. In his view, today’s Hollywood films were dramas of the ancient Greek. In such a size of painting, Markus Lüpertz is not confined by the abstract principles of modernism in the 20th Century, but regards abstract factors as a way that is liberated from the bondage of representation, to display the pure beauty and spiritual strength. In 1989, Markus Lüpertz once said, “Dithyramb is completely my personal unscientific contribution to abstract. Abstract is not a rational analysis and simplification, but the creation for the meaningless objects, a simple existence…”
Germany had an economic take-off in the 1970s but many Postwar younger generation artists queried the wealthy society, new expressionist art often performed the economic prosperity and feeling of spiritual emptiness in the Post-war German society. Markus Lüpertz had the same experience as many new expressionists who had lived in East and West Germany. He was born in East Germany in 1941, moved to West Berlin in 1963. After crossing two completely different ideologies, he no longer had any illusion of the utopian. The works created by Markus Lüpertz in the early 1970s, had introduced all kinds of symbols of the Nazi period, including a cap, helmet, shovel and chess pieces into the paintings, created the “German Theme” series. He said he accidentally found the theme when he watched an Italian war film. Sometimes, he would expose the creative process of art, embedding a saw, hammer and electric wire into the painting, to make the picture show deep scars, like the mottled traces of ancient Greek statues and the German mental scars which were left by the II World War.
After leaving the hustle and bustle of the new expressionism movement, Markus Lüpertz began more freely referring to the resources of art history, formed a new style of representation. The oil painting series Abkehr (2008) depicted Adam and Eve of the Paradise Lost. However, we can’t see their faces, neither seeing the lost shame, nor feeling their ambition to face the adventures in life. The naked person who turns his/her back on us might be Adam or Eve, or anyone among us.
In “Ulysses” series (2011-2012), Markus Lüpertz turned the displaced hero in Greek mythology to an abandoned classical statue, and Ulysses’ eyes were empty which is like being in meditation. This kind of surreal image neither displays a classic idyll, nor a nostalgic homesickness, but reflects the existential position that fights against heroism and aestheticism.
Markus Lüpertz’s still life is usually the combination of representation and abstract, sometimes it also uses the means of picture-in-picture. Teltower Tisch is a typical representative of this. Triptych is a serious, religious, represented form giving the abstract factor a power that is against the abstract, while the uncorrelated combination of representational objects in the upper half of the painting also constitute an abstract rhythm. The upper half and bottom half of the painting is both contradictory and echo each other, to present a harmony between the abstract and representation.
“Arkadien” is also a theme constantly portrayed by Markus Lüpertz. This series obviously often have a mark of the Homeric Age. However, Markus Lüpertz’s Arkadien is not the image of arcadia, even though there is a scene with Venus or Jupiter, it iacks the romantic and poetic feeling. His paintings never invite people to go out of the real world. In which a ship, helmet and shell is not necessarily a symbol, they are mixed with classical statues, Matisse and Picasso’s modernism paintings, films and advertising images, point to cultural tradition while pointing to the contemporary life, sighing for the tradition that we will not be able to return to forever, while searching for a new spiritual home. The double worlds attract each other and confront each other.
In the “Arkadien-Die Vision des Poussin” (2012), the painter hinted that French painter Poussin in the 17th Century was infatuated with the classicism, as if it was a person’s lonely unrequited love. In the background of modernism, rationale and abstract, Disney’s cartoon characters and the heroes in the classical, old, broken, and imaged pastoral background and myth correspond and crisscross, it is as if the overlapping of the multiple forms of art and cultural spaces are mapped by the prism, as if it is he contemporary life itself.
Markus Lüpertz’ sculptures are always themed on classical heroes. The figure statue Herkules Entwurfsmodell is colorful, like a painting that is between representation and abstract, mixing the forms of Greek sculptures and Picasso. The head, face, neck, shoulders, elbow of the statue is highlighted, swollen and extended in space, the various parts of the body are mutually supporting and mutually confronting the movement of pushing, pulling, crowding, to present the baroque’s action and the tension of modern art. These “Hercules” look plain and clumsy, they seem to mock the legend of the hero in the myth. However, they also show the vigor of primitive art, the distinct contrast between the wild, instinctive, powerful bodily desire and the beauty, strength, and sexy that is disciplined by contemporary civilization.
Starting from philosophy and poetry, Markus Lüpertz reviewed the history, in order to constantly know and update tradition, rather than borrowing traditional techniques and languages, nor going back to Titian and Renaissance’s golden age. He misappropriated the traditional motif such as Arkadien, to depict Adam and Eve who fell from paradise, but it ignored the traditional aesthetic principles. If one doesn’t read the title, he can’t find the relationship between Markus Lüpertz’s painting and arcadia or French classical artist Poussin. The original sense of order was completely disrupted, while the interpretation of the past couldn’t be brought forward in the picturesque scene of the artist. Markus Lüpertz usually added the cold materials from reality to the classical paintings, such as a helmet, skeleton and snail, using cold humor to unmask the myth about history, progress and mythology.
If it is unnecessary for rationale to go beyond emotion, unnecessary for the abstract to replace representation, unnecessary for the concept to replace form, unnecessary for artists to have a choice between abstract and representation, easel painting and conceptual art, unnecessary to adhere to any traditional principles, artistic boundary, whether art is dead, whether art is ended is not the question. Markus Lüpertz is a classicist who refuses to use the language of classical art and an expressionist refuses to use the language of expressionism, while he is also an abstract artist who is separated from the modern abstract form. In his paintings, forms are free floating, passing through between the traditional and contemporary, representation and abstract, getting rid of the bondage of finishing and integrity, maintaining the freedom that looks like flying. It is the Dionysian spirit and the personality of contemporary artists.
The article was published on the “World Art” vol.2, 2015
1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra（1884-85), Leipzig: Alfred Kröner, 1930, 217，338-43.
2 Zweite, Markus Lüpertz: Gemälde-Skulpturen, 15; Power, “Dithyrambic Identities,” 87.
3 Lüpertz, Markus LüpertzimGesprächmit Heinz Peter Schwerfel, 30: “Die Dithyrambe war meinganzindividueller und unwissenschaftlicherBeitragzurAbstraktion. AbstraktionnichtimSinne des Abstrahierens, sondernals die
ErfindungeinesunsinnigenGegenstands. EinesGegenstands, der einfachnur da ist …
So verstandichdamalsAbstraktion: Als das nichtBegreifbare.”.
4 Markus Lüpertz, “Nationalism without Frontiers” (interview by Keith Patrick), Art Line, London, 5 (Summer 1991), 14.
Courtesy of the author and artist, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO.