This show is a great reminder for anyone who has forgotten what red-blooded, hairy-testicled painting is all about. For those of us bewildered by the cold layers of Gerhard Richter or just generally lost in a maze of installations and institutional critique, here are some whacking great canvases in an industrial size gallery. It might not be your thing, but it’s still a blast. I associate his work with the ‘so bad it’s good’ school of thought, not least the iconic upside down hanging. It all seems like the visual version of a band playing deliberately out of tune at full volume. I associate his painting with all the punk and industrial music I was listening to when I first saw them, with a raucous vigour. Noise against the silence of nature.
It’s been a long time since I had an encounter with the formidable paintings of Georg Baselitz, the fallen giant of Neo Expressionism. He has a full-on show of recent work at the Gagosian gallery in King’s Cross. It is a giant valediction to Willem de Kooning who actually died quite a while back (1997). The link with de Kooning is blindingly obvious, but I for one never saw it. Only with the passage of time are people able to fully acknowledge their influences, especially as originality is at such a high premium in the art market. In the exhibition notes Baselitz is quoted: Most of what you see as freedom is de Kooning. The lyricism of de Kooning is, for me, a classical leaning – a grace and elegance that counterpoints the bloody fleshy paint. The lyricism of Baselitz is an even harder animal to track down, but lies rather in a betrayed German Romanticism. Nameless heroes glimpsed fleetingly in woodsmoke at twilight.
But of course the new Expressionists are related to the abstract ones, Philip Guston must have been a big influence on Baselitz too I reckon, just as the abstract Expressionists are related to the original ones – like Nolde and Kirchner. It is such a relief to find some sense of development and lineage in art, not just endless revolution. The way that de Kooning and Baselitz take representational imagery and flay it, flay it upside down in Baselitz’s case, until just a trace remains – this is where vitality in painting lies.