Huldigung an Hafez 4 2015 Embossed print on handmade paper 70 x 100 cm Limited edition of 70 Signed, number and dated
Huldigung an Hafez 16 2015 Embossed print on handmade paper 70 x 100 cm Limited edition of 70 Signed, number and dated
Doppelspirale 2018 Embossed print on handmade paper 50 x 70 cm Limited edition of 100 Signed, number and dated
Nageltisch (Nail table) 1971 Stainless steel table with 153 nails 52 x 49 x 49 cm Limited Edition of 100. Only 12 tables were produced in total.The full edition was never finished.
„The Nail is a very tactile language, it is striking, an object, that provokes sensuality. ... To me, the Nail is a material as colour is to others.“ (Günther Uecker)
Günther Uecker’s biography and his art are strongly intertwined and there is an inextricable link between his œvre, his experiences of tragedy and his political position against war and the abuse of human rights. Born in 1930 in Wendorf in Mecklenburg and grown up on the Wustrow peninsula, Günther Uecker had to face the violence and tragedy of the Second World War at a young age.
After his training as a painter and advertisement designer, he studied applied arts at the University of Wismar, later transferring to the Weissensee School of Art in Berlin. Feeling confined by the rigid artistic standards in East Germany, Uecker moved to Düsseldorf to continue his studies under his teacher Otto Pankok. It is Otto Pankok, who became a pacifist and activist after his experiences in the First World War, to whom Uecker owes a great deal not only artistically, but also on a personal level. Influenced by his teacher, Günther Uecker moved towards the medium of woodcut and created his first abstract work. Uecker was strongly impressed by the works of certain artists, at first by Picasso’s political motive, the Dove of Peace before he moved to Western Germany. Later on, influenced by the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevitch, he was preoccupied with the question: What is reality?
Uecker started exploring an expanded concept of reality in his work, which brought him into contact with the ZERO group, initially founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. Uecker joined them early on in 1961, following the intention of the group to develop art beyond the means of iconography, to start again from zero. Even before joining the ZERO artists, Uecker exhibited his abstract woodcuts and his first monochrome works with nails in the mid 1950s alongside Yves Klein, who later became his brother-in-law. Lucio Fontana, with whom Günther Uecker enjoyed intellectual and artistic exchange, had a major influence on Uecker’s artistic development. Fontana gave all his works the generic title Concetto Spaziale, and saw both paper and canvas as spatial sculptural material. His intention was to show the continuity of space in front and behind the canvas, to destroy and open up the illusional space of the traditional picture. By hammering nails into canvases, everyday objects like chairs, musical instruments and door frames, Günther Uecker follows a similar thought, aiming to transcend the traditional space of the object itself and thus creating kinetic artworks, that can only be fully experienced through movement and the changing light. A very important role within Günther Ueckers work can be assigned to his graphic print work, especially his utilisation of the blind embossing technique. Blind embossing of paper gives the material three-dimensional properties or even relief-like qualities, without using any colour. Thus embossed printing is the only method that exclusively enables actual light and consequently the shadows cast by the embossed parts of paper to affect the perception of the artwork.
When working on a paper embossing, Uecker at first sketches out the desired image idea and decides on paper format. He then creates an embossing block by nailing a chipboard, using the same technique as for his nail objects. The nails and their directional alignment, often showing spiral forms in Uecker’s later works, are the dominant theme in his embossed paper works.The origins of the Nail as an important and recurring element of Uecker’s work, were only revealed by the artist in an interview 2012. As the Russian troops appeared in his village in Wustrow during World War II, Günther Uecker noticed their violence against women and in his effort to protect his mother and his sister, he barred the house by putting up wooden boards inside the windows and doors, nailing them shut. The incident of how the Nail entered his artistic work is described by the artists own words: “And as if by chance I was working with impasto paintings for which I made my own combs and brushes, including, at one point, a brush made of nails. While doing so, I suddenly realised that this tool I was using had its own inherent expression and was in fact exactly what I had never been able to achieve by other means.”
Ueckers work is informed by his extensive travels. Starting with his studies of indigenous cultures in Latin America in 1971, followed by his journeys to Africa and Asia in 1982. Uecker visited Asia again in 1984 and 85, traveling through Japan, China, Mongolia and Siberia. His fascination with cultures outside of Europe is also reflected in one of his latest works, the series Huldigung an Hafez from 2015, inspired by his encounter with the culture of Iran. Deeply touched by the poetry of the Persian medieval poet and mystic Hafez, Uecker created a series of 42 artworks, including screen prints, sand prints and embossings. Apart from his fascination with the poet’s verses, another intention lies at the heart of Uecker’s creation – the building of bridges between cultures through a dialogue of the arts.
From 1974 to 1995 Günther Uecker was a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he himself had studied. His classes were notable for the freedom of expression for his students and his own restraint in critique, respecting his students, in his own words, as “singular human beings, with a singular perception of the human experience”. The artist participated at the documenta in Kassel numerous times, his work was exhibited in international solo and group shows and can be found in the collections of major institutions worldwide. In 2013 the Staatliches Museum Schwerin acquired thirteen of the artist’s objects from a private collection, in 2015 the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen presented a retrospective exhibition with more than 60 of Uecker’s artworks.
Günther Uecker lives and works in Oberkassel and St. Gallen.
Image credit © Oliver Mark / CC BY-SA 4.0