A major figure in the German art scene, A.R Penck, born as Ralf Winkler in Dresden in 1939, lived through the war, the destruction of his city and the dividing-up of his country, which left a deep impression on him.
When he discovered painting through a book on impressionism found in the ruins, a new world opened up, one that he decided to explore, self-taught, dedicating himself to the study of painting, sculpture, poetry and music.
When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, he painted Weltbilder (World Images), inspired by prehistoric cave paintings. Far from the socialist realism advocated by the Soviet regime, his work, with its simplified lines and ideographic signs, was condemned by the East German authorities; Penck was thus forced to develop his artistic activities clandestinely (Untergrund).
In 1969, ignoring official prohibition, he exhibited for the first time in the West, in the Michael Werner Gallery, under the pseudonym A. R. Penck, making reference to a 19th Century geologist who specialised in the glacial era. The artist was a real chameleon, regularly changing his name, as in 1973, when he became Mike Hammer (detective novel hero); under this pseudonym he painted a series of more abstract, expressive paintings.
Far from the intolerant, dictatorial orthodoxy, Penck worked to make the universal communicable by developing an idiom capable of breaking down all the borders that separate people. In developing the concept of Standart, Penck perfected a pictorial language made up of elementary signs and symbols that anyone could understand and reproduce.
Penck was stripped of his East German nationality and forced into exile in 1980. He settled in the West, and colour began to appear more and more fully in his works, which also became more expressive.
Over the years, alternating between abstract figuration and figurative abstraction, Penck follows a number of different or complementary routes, but nevertheless remains loyal to the same quest of making tangible the invisible and universal link that unites us all: our humanity.