Paintings Should Stick in the Throat

A question and its answer … are the painters still those painters who are painting the great cave? Do they paint the buffalo on the wall as hunger, the eagle as freedom, and the woman with a big bottom as love? Do they paint the buffalo as the table that magically sets itself? Have they meanwhile left the cave, cleared out of the community, and forgotten all those universal, comprehensible agreements, because magic does not still hunger, because flying does not work and yearning for love does not breed love? Have they traded the cave for some other place? Propagandizing about needs, ‘What does man need?’ feeds upon a yearning for freedom and the fear of death and entices us into taking another way, off the painters’ course. The smart ones, hotshots, innovators, activists – in the forefront madmen and hotspurs – have remained within their own skulls. They proclaim plucky mottos: paintings should stick in the throat, eyelids should be nailed down, and hearts grabbed with pliers. Fish bone, air raid and separation. Well, one still sits together around the fire, warms up the studios, has had enough to eat, and is in love. On battered canvases are those sumptuous ornaments filled with jumbled lines and rich colours; crystalline galleries hang over the frames. All that once stood erect, the still life, has been knocked over, the landscape has been seized and uprooted, the interiors tangled, and the portraits scratched and pierced. Painting became music. Surrealism won. Everything durable has been kicked out of the paintings.

Now, the tone goes right through walls, the line stands upside down. Are the painters now unhappy and freezing? They dance and celebrate with their friends, they invite their fathers and drink Capri with them. A black painting is as white as the sky. The colours in the dark cave are aglow. Light is superfluous. Everything is utterly different, anyway. The paraphernalia of Venus, Zeus, the angels, Picasso were invented by the painters, as were the bull, the roast chicken and the lovers. The pear-wood palette became a pail, the brush a knife, an axe and a club. The largest paintings are larger, and the smallest are smaller than ever before. Someone painted a painting weighing five hundred pounds. A Chinese handwalked over the canvas. A Norwegian painted 168 acres of birch wood on one and one-half square inches of canvas. This is not the way I want to continue. Hygiene, I mean religion, is employed. Discipline is one thing, education another, and meditation, too. Intoxication is used to prepare or to stabilize an attitude. Some eat well, others purify themselves through fasting. While I see no point at all in bustling around, in being confused, zap, zap, my friend between New York and Cologne makes the best paintings in his trouser pocket, where his canary sits. Does one see more of the world by climbing a ladder, does one see still more by lying down flat on the field and by sticking one’s nose in the ground? Either way. The difference between a German and an Italian apple tree is enormously large. In Tuscany in the garden I made photos of such trees. Back home in Germany I was terribly excited by these exotic apple trees, these unpaintable fairy-tale-tree-inventions. I realized that I did not want to paint an apple tree at all. I was still under the mother and had stuck out only my nose. The world had not opened up, the secret remained hidden within the object, but now there was confusion. This is an experience, but not of the kind that broadens your mind through shifting horizons. The first la-la sounds and the first dot-dot-comma-dash are indeed vehement creations for the one who makes them. This is not theory. I composed Fidelio, I know precisely that as a six-year-old I conducted this very piece; hare and dog I painted when I was eight years old, signing them Albrecht Dürer. One of these watercolours is in Vienna, in the Albertina, the dog is lost.

In order to remember, and perhaps to also build up my past, I painted for example, in 1969, the forest, for I am convinced that The Hunters at Rest in Wermsdorf Forest was painted by me in my eighth year at school in Saxony. The painting is smaller than the memory. In front of me, on the table, there is a silver thermos coffeepot with warm coffee. This pot would not mean anything to me were it not that I see myself reflected in it. Thus, I am reminded of my self-portrait with the large hand in the foreground – it hangs in Vienna. There is true Surrealism there, but only because I once again know exactly that at that time I had fair short hair and not these dark curls. My long cherished plan is to paint pictures behind the canvas. I do not want to hide behind the canvas, but want to stand upright before it. The painters’ equipment for this act of painting are arms that are too short. Anatomy fails. By 1993, some painters will surely have an arm eighteen inches longer and will make this ‘behind-the-canvas-picture’. That’s me. Therefore, I paint today, 16 November 1985, this sort of Futurism and sign it with the date 1993. All that which lies behind the painter also lies before him. Ever since I fell on a frozen lake with my head hitting hard on the ice, a singing tone has remained inside my skull. This was a totally unproductive act, which proves the thesis of the unreproducibility of experience. Only recently did this sound vanish from my head; it was erased when I heard the lingering sound after a drum roll in Bruckner’s Second Symphony. As if by psychic interference, the air rushed out of my ear. Such acts (falling on ice) do not belong to the painters’ equipment. Here, nature has different plans. Suppose one paints an apple tree; meanwhile it grows dark, night falls, one stops painting. On the following day, one paints over this apple tree a still life. Is one off target? On the third day, one paints a portrait over it; one paints like that as long as one wants one thing on top of another. If someone now comes and asks what are you doing, I would immediately answer, a … , because that is how I do it.

No one forces the painter into a society whose doctrine demands phoney paintings, in which the good draws examples of political madness for the picture book of the bad. If I paint the table that magically sets itself, I’ll eat it up myself. My wife gently strokes my head. The painting will never be finished, my dear, should the painter fall from the ladder. The white contour ignites a black background. The Spanish painters are good lighting engineers. The inventor of the large theatre spotlight is Velázquez. I ran away from his lighting rehearsal. Such a focused light makes me feel dizzy. Maybe it was wrong to run away, for now I miss this equipment. I must pull together the mush of paint with a rope. Like snakes, the ends of the rope are lying in the sun, the black adder lies on top, on top of the still life. There, on the painting, drawing is precise where it matters and where it equally matters the line is blurred, it lurches and disappears into darkness. I am not lying – right now, I see Marat in the bathtub, the painting by David. Actually, what I see better is the arm with the pen in the hand, the pendulum arm, the hour has come, the new era. The arm with its hand is by Rosso, that painting where in the background Moses rages. It is impossible for Rosso’s model to have been still alive at the time of David, but it is the same arm; therefore, Rosso and David are one and the same. This ARM is equipment. Reincarnation is nonsense. Equipment also comprises GREEN and RED DOTS on the garland in the Tomb of Priscilla painted by Renoir. I was standing by and was working on the dance step. Many painters were in that cave. The woman with the tambourine was not yet there. The dead need the best paintings, that is art history, one can add that the paintings are in the darkness. Everything I am saying here is positive, what is bad should be left aside.


These are the points to be enumerated: ALL PAINTERS ARE LIVING; PASSION MAY BE THERE; HYGIENE; COLOUR, e.g. RED; ALL THINGS IN THE PAINTINGS, e.g. NOTHING IN THEM AT ALL; LINE, it can shoot into the eye from the background, from the bottom of the canvas, or even right through the canvas; ORNAMENT, braided, twisted, wound, even falling, can also be as SNAKE or ROPE; DOT as DOT as SPOT as PILE, like FLAT-CAKE, also flies sometimes across the plane of the canvas; the PLANE itself, impossible to imagine everything, e.g. as HAIR, as BODY, as CHEST of a hero, as GREEN EYE or even as CHRISTMAS TREE, as OCEAN, if possible, not in perspective; NARRATION, here, for instance, the MYTH of the Trojan Horse would be of interest; MUSIC – in Rembrandt’s family group in Brunswick a cello is played deep yellow; NUMBERS, MODULE, PROPORTION, not the example with the ladder, but rather Eskimo and iceberg, cyclops behind the rock; of course also everything invented by painters, such as CHIMNEY, HOUSE, LOCOMOTIVE, PYRAMID, PAVEMENT, WINDOW-CROSS; also THINGS WITHOUT ANGLES, as FIRMAMENT and SEA OF STARS. A better or worse life is not contained here, among the equipment. Illusions belong to the interpreters. The most beautiful of Modigliani’s painted nudes has no skin, no flesh, no teeth. One cannot go so far and say that paintings have these things. In this list, as you will have noticed, the motif is missing, it is not included for the following reason: David’s painting with the murdered Marat in the bathtub is as obviously just as much a cave painting as is a painted Etruscan tomb. Can paintings actually be seen by others? The great cave is dark, the paintings can hardly be seen. The tombs of the Etruscan or Egyptian are pitch dark, one does not see the paintings at all. Thus, the painter painted paintings that no one can see. Again, Renoir has not bungled in the Tomb of Priscilla, as we now see on close examination, although he could never have assumed that we ever were going to see it. Why did he do it then? The viewer was invented by the public, not by the painters.

Only the changed civilization, another cultural imperative, brought this painting to light. All the dead had once been alive. Thus, this painting is an epitaph. The buffalo with the arrowheads is here the dead Marat, and the little ink sponge is, without question, the roll in the still lifes, or else the table that magically sets itself. If we look at the costumes of the people, the rich garments and draped fabrics, the interior of the room, the bathtub, we can say that David had one foot in ancient Rome. This is shifted civilization, not developed towards something better, just shifted. The motif in David’s mind is the cave with the cavemen and their still-intact, unabashed agreement that the buffalo and the roll feed both the living and the dead. No painter goes hunting for motifs, that would be paradoxical, because the motif is in the mind of the painter, the mechanism that thinks. Everywhere in every painting the buffalos and rolls are an expression of the motif. Our instincts tell us what to do with them. Our yearning needs pictures. There is a knock on the door. ‘Come in!’ Enter a painter, as I can readily recognize from the stain of the paint on his trousers and from his dirty fingernails. ‘May I sit down?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Want to talk about …?’ ‘Why not.’ He notices the thermos coffeepot on the table between us. ‘Could you give me a cup of coffee?’ If he fails to recognize the Parmigianino but thinks only about the coffee in the pot, he is certainly a realist and completely depraved. It might at least occur to him that perhaps the pot is empty. As a matter of fact, it is in the meantime empty. Thus, all I can do is answer, ‘I’m afraid not, because this is my self-portrait out of which you want to drink coffee.’ After all, I do not want to confuse him too much by first complicatedly explaining to him that there is no more coffee in the pot. He answers, quite unexpectedly, ‘You can’t fool me like that. I see what I know.’ To which I respond, ‘You probably want to find the motif in my studio.’ He is a practical person, he loves beauty, he would like to warm himself up with coffee, then he wants to present his programme and fraternize with me. Anyway, he answers totally perplexed, ‘Oh, there’s no nude model here.’ Now I know he is lying, because for nude drawings he needs a sketch pad, which he has not brought with him. What now? I decide to tell him nothing about the equipment and tersely answer, ‘No sibyl has stepped between us.’

Georg Baselitz

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