A.r. Penck
  • Introduction

  • Bio

  • Publications

A.R. PENCK’S use of signs and symbols can be understood across the world

Born in Dresden in 1939, Ralf Winkler had many artistic pseudonyms, including Mickey Spilane, Mike Hammer, or simply Y, before becoming internationally recognised as A.R. Penck.  The universal language he developed is based on elementary symbols, which can be traced in part back to cave drawings. Animals, stick men, crosses and solar symbols, as well as extended speers and arrows drawn on arms and legs, symbolise existential struggles, territories, and social or governmental barriers. The mind-sets of his images are friend or foe, treason or peace, barrier or bridge. They are composed not only according to political themes from the past and present, but also those of evocative rituals such as healing and suffering. The artist uses the expression “Standart-Bilder” (“Standard Images”) to describe his style, which is characterised above all by black symbols on colourful backgrounds of primary colours such as red, green, yellow, and blue.

Yet these standardised image systems and archaic picture worlds continually diverge from the traditional demands of socialist realism. Winkler, who now lives in Ireland, loves to be an outsider, and worked as a fireman, a roofer, and in many other jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, the sculptor and painter was rejected four times from the public art universities of the GDR. After failing to get accepted in Dresden and at the Academy for Applied Arts in East Berlin, he developed a unique, self-taught style. In Dresden he worked in an atelier with Max Uhlig and took part in underground drawing classes, for example. For much of his time as an artist in the GDR, however, he was forbidden from exhibiting. Only on rare occasions was he able to show his works to a small section of the public. This was thanks to the help of good friends in independent galleries or cooperative-lead institutions such as the “Galerie Oben” (“Gallery Above”) in the former Karl-Mark-Stadt, known today as Chemnitz.

Winkler was involved in countless underground music bands in the GDR, where he and his artistic colleagues would organise small “total artworks” comprising music, theatre, and dance. This activity was done under the pseudonyms of Mike Hammer of Mickey Spilane, names he kept for the works and techniques that stemmed from these pieces. The top view and planeness of his works ultimately stems from Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, which provides the fundamental inspiration for his brushstrokes and slashes.

Though his international career began when he renounced his citizenship of the GDR in 1980, he had already been able to win over a number of collectors and fans during the 70s. From 1969 onwards he had had increasing problems with the State Security Service of the GDR, and in 1979 they destroyed his Atelier and the artwork within as part of a pretend break-in. Despite this, Winkler began to support the dissident cause in 1976 after meeting the Düsseldorf painter Jörg Immendorf. In 1988, shortly before German reunification, he became Professor at the University of Düsseldorf, where he taught painting until 2003.

Christina Wendenburg
1939Born in Dresden
1955-1956Apprenticeship as drawer at DEWAG
1971Member of artistgroup Lücke
1972Participation at Documenta 5
1980Moving to West-Germany
1982Participation at Documenta 7
1983Moving to London
1984Teilnahme an der Biennale in Venedig
1988Professor for Painting
1992Participation at Documenta 9
2003Moved to Dublin
2017Died in Zurich

Collections (Selection)

Kunstsammlung Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt Main
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich
Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg
Kunstmuseum Walter, Augsburg
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt Main
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Städtische Galerie Dresden (Sammlung Jürgen Schweinebraden)
Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, Strassburg
Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden

Books/Catalogs (Selection)

Ingrid Pfeiffer, A. R. Penck, Isabelle Graw, Harald Kunde, Kewin Power, Pirkko Rathgeber, Jürgen Schweinebraden: A. R. Penck: Werke 1961–2001 Dt. /Engl. Düsseldorf 2007
Ausstellungskatalog: documenta 5. Befragung der Realität – Bildwelten heute; Katalog (als Aktenordner) Band 1: (Material); Band 2: (Exponatliste); Kassel 1972
documenta Archiv (Hrsg.); Wiedervorlage d5 – Eine Befragung des Archivs zur documenta 1972; Kassel/Ostfildern 2001
Katalog zur documenta 6: Band 1: Malerei, Plastik/Environment, Performance; Band 2: Fotografie, Film, Video; Band 3: Handzeichnungen, Utopisches Design, Bücher; Kassel 1977
Katalog: documenta 7 Kassel ; Bd. 1: (Visuelle Biographien der Künstler); Bd. 2: (Aktuelle Arbeiten der Künstler); Kassel 1982
Documenta IX: Kassel, 13. Juni-20. September 1992 – Katalog in drei Bänden; Stuttgart 1992
A.R.Penck: Dogma und Dialektik, hrsg. Galerie Michael Schultz OHG, Berlin 1999

> read more
< read less
Wish list 0
This work has been added to your wish list
Cart  0
Added to cart
Removed from cart
LUMAS Art News: Cover to cover inspiration.

In the LUMAS Art Magazine, you’ll find hand-picked new discoveries, the latest works, and a lot more. Request a free copy now delivered to you at home.

The LUMAS Newsletter. Always up to date.

Be the first to find out more about our new art, special promotions, and recommendations from the LUMAS Curators. You can also look forward to invitations to exclusive art events in your LUMAS gallery.
Mr. Ms.
Art Magazine Newsletter
Opening Receptions and events in your LUMAS gallery.
Exclusive works of art, only available for a few days.
And the LUMAS Magazine, sent to you for free at least once a year.

Bring art into your life!

Thank you for your interest in LUMAS!

Sign up now for the free LUMAS Magazine, packed with new editions and background information about artists and their works, sent to your home for free at least once a year!

Please complete the fields marked in red.

Mr. Ms.


//fill search fields on main stage Select your language