By Alastair Sooke, Chief Art Critic
‘I wanted to make nasty pictures – and I still do’ The German artist may have mellowed in old age but, as he tells Alastair Sooke, he still believes artists thrive on non-conformity.
Sitting in his suite at Le Meurice hotel in Paris, Georg Baselitz, the great German artist and controversialist, who reportedly once said that “women don’t paint very well – it’s a fact”, is explaining why, finally, at 83, he’s no longer the enfant terrible of contemporary art.
The “rage” and “malice” that, he tells me, he experienced when he was younger have gone: “I feel much happier,” he says via Zoom, dressed in black, his voice a low growl, his shaved head reminiscent of the spectral, bald self-portraits surreally clustered together in Oberon (1963-64), a famous early oil painting.
In fact, he reveals, he has mellowed to such an extent that he has returned to the French capital, shortly after the opening of his superb retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, to be admitted to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, that bastion of tradition against which Baselitz’s avant-garde heroes among the School of Paris, including Picasso, once railed. “Many will be surprised that I’ve been given this honour,” Baselitz says. But, he adds, membership of the Académie is a form of “immortality” – and that, he smiles, “is very appealing.”