A.R. Penck

A.R. Penck was a German neo-expressionist whose paintings of figures and symbols nod to German expressionists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Art Brut. Penck’s Standart works, which employ a lexicon of pictographic marks that the artist refers to as “building blocks,” are essential to understanding both his process and his ideology. Although often associated with the graffiti-based work of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, his style emerged independently as a response to the censorship of the German Democratic Republic.

Born Ralf Winkler on October 5, 1939 in Dresden, Germany, he adopted A.R. Penck as a nickname based on the early 20th century paleogeologist Albrecht Penck when East German State Security began confiscating his works during the 1960s. Expelled to West Germany by the communist regime of the GDR in 1980, he became part of a group of neo-expressionist painters that included Markus Lüpertz and Jörg Immendorff. After the height of his career in the mid-1980s, Penck’s work fell out of favor for several decades. In the late 2000s, the artist’s work began to be revalued as an integral legacy to art history. After a prolonged illness, the artist passed away on May 2, 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland. Today, his works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.