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"I Hate the Future" Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Stefan Grissemann and Wolfgang Paterno

29 March 2021

Excerpt from the original interview in German | Translation by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac


profil: Can you read your paintings like a diary?

Baselitz: I don't keep a diary, I'm too lazy for that. Some of the works that are now on show in Salzburg are based on decades-old nude photographs of my wife. Certain experiences and dreams do not appear in the pictures, of course. Nevertheless, it is all about documented life. If I paint my wife today after a photo from 1973, it is only because this so-called "bedroom picture" from that time is such an immensely important work for me. At that time, by the way, I took Polaroids. So I never had to take nude photos of my wife to the developing studio.

profil: You prefer the past to the present?

Baselitz: I love going backwards. I hate the future. I don't want to know anything about it, the past fulfils me. The further back it lies, the happier I feel.

profil: Old people like to talk about the past.

Baselitz: I feel the same way. At the same time, the works in Salzburg are proof that I haven't done certain things in painting yet. I see it as almost sportsmanlike: I have to compete, because I'm afraid of my late work, really afraid. Through discipline I am slowly trying to get there.

profil: You are 83. When does your late work begin? At 95?

Baselitz: There is this famous photo of Matisse in which he can be seen with a fat belly, barely able to take a step, holding a long stick with charcoal mounted on the front. Wonderful! That's the way to approach works of old age.

profil: In 1969 you began to turn your paintings upside down. Kandinsky is said to have come to abstraction when he happened to see one of his paintings upside down. Were you inspired by him?

Baselitz: I didn't know Kandinsky that well at the time. A friend of mine, who is an ophthalmologist, wrote to me that you see everything upside down anyway; later he proved to me that I am green-sighted. But all that has nothing to do with turning my pictures upside down. I was trying to break out of a dilemma, out of this dependency. The picture inversion was literally a subversive action. At the very beginning of my career, I painted dirty pictures. Later I wanted to be serious and paint like August Marquardt or Anselm Feuerbach, very German. So I needed a reality, a basis. And my goodness, it was so obvious: contradict your father, your uncle! Contradict your teachers! Get it all wrong! It took me days to comprehend what the reversal even meant. The first pictures were exhibited in Cologne: no reaction! At first everyone just thought it was a stupid joke!

profil: How do you control your upside-down motifs?

Baselitz: Not at all. I see control as a deficiency. I compose my pictures as if in a trance, as if asleep. It's like making music while dreaming.

profil: The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said that he always takes pictures without thinking.

Baselitz: All artists do that. With the difference that photographers take thousands and thousands of pictures, we painters perhaps only 100 in a lifetime.


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