Famously referred to as the contrarian, prankster and line-crosser, Sigmar Polke was perhaps the most insatiable experimental artists to grace the art world. Throughout his magnificent 50 year career, Polke experimented with more than five different mediums in art, these included painting, drawing, fil, photography, sculpture, printmaking, television, performance and stained glass. Polke’s signature style was mixing the boundaries of the various mediums he used to give the illusion of the final product being one medium. He was called a line crosser and prankster due to his abilities to portray different types of painters and eluding from one form of art to another without any justification. It was always difficult to place Polke in one specific category. In the last 20 years of his life Polke settled down to do mostly painting and photography related work on the mostly historical subjects and how he perceived them to be.
Sigmar Polke was born in 1941 in Poland, his family quickly fled to Germany in order to avoid the spread of Socialism. They later fled again from East to West Germany due to the increase in Nazi culture in Germany. Initially Polke spend a lot of time around galleries and museums, eventually working as an apprentice in a stained glass factory. At the age of 20 he enrolled in a proper art school. Due to his unusual upbringing where Polke was exposed to many different environments, the notorious being the German line “I didn’t see anything” during the Nazi uprising, Polke developed a very cynical attitude towards government and authority. He questioned the very core of human nature and its tendency to change so radically. Behind Polke’s wit, intelligence and experimentation lay a man who always held a cynical view on religion, government, community and artistic authority. Polke was first exposed to playing around with illusion during his apprenticeship at the stained glass factory where he experimented with matting together layers of plastic, imagery and photography meshing together all elements to produce a final piece at the end. The final product looked like the typical “Polke Dots” as they came to be known later on, it gave the illusion of it being just one medium when in reality it wasn’t. Later on Polke would go on to add in more strange materials to his paintings like fruit juice, arsenic powder and gun powder – all elements no sane artist would even dream of conjuring in their art work. Only artists like Polke got away with using components like this.
Today some of the most famous galleries and museums host Polke’s work, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to the Tate Modern in London and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. As an artist, Sigmar Polke was quite open about his recreational drug use which, according to him, enabled him to focus more on blurring the lines between reality and his vision of art. Throughout his life he was awarded with many titles and prizes – perhaps the most any artist of the 20th century has ever received. These included being awarded the Golden Lion, Erasmus Prize, Carnegie Award, Rubens Prize and being inducted into the honorable American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.