German Artist Georg Baselitz 'My Paintings are Battles'
Part 2: 'Talent Seduces Us into Interpretation'
SPIEGEL: Perhaps artists and composers have also distanced themselves from the public.
Baselitz: Wrong. The public has distanced itself.
SPIEGEL: And yet artists themselves could be to blame. Writers participate in debates in entirely different ways. Durs Grünbein writes political essays, and Martin Walser has often gotten involved. Günter Grass wrote a poem about Israel. You don't have to approve of (the poem), but everyone was talking about it.
Baselitz: Painters just don't live to draw attention to themselves in that way. Walser sells his books because people go to his book-signings and readings, where they buy a copy for 20 and take it home with them. He has to sell thousands of books. We painters don't need that. I've never been on a talk show. I used to say to (now-deceased German painter) Jörg Immendorff: "Don't do it. It'll just hurt you, and it'll make you unhappy." But he couldn't leave well enough alone because he was an agitator by nature. Writers have to do it. TV is their medium for selling books.
SPIEGEL: Sometimes it's just a question of speaking up. In your works, you certainly do grapple with the country you live in.
Baselitz: Exactly. But no one on the other side of society is interested in that. We're called "painter princes," but it's meant derisively. All German painters have a neurosis with Germany's past: war, the postwar period most of all, East Germany. I addressed all of this in a deep depression and under great pressure. My paintings are battles, if you will.
SPIEGEL: Do you prefer not to address current affairs?
Baselitz: At least not the way Günter Grass does. And that would be terrible. Instead of sitting down and writing another "Tin Drum," he writes a poem about Greece.
SPIEGEL: You find this reference to the here and now embarrassing?
Baselitz: Extremely embarrassing. There are also painters who do this sort of thing, but we're not going to name them.
SPIEGEL: Why do you have trouble treating culture here with indulgence?
Baselitz: I think Günter Grass is truly awful. So is Walser, and so is (Hans Magnus) Enzensberger. Just read the diary of Hans Werner Richter, the head of Group 47, to which they all belonged. Read what he says about these people, and it'll make you feel very depressed. I also feel that way because, after all, they were our role models, our heroes. Your magazine was the voice of these people. And their contribution? Zero. Reading Walser is unbearable. I call him "the bubble of Lake Constance."
SPIEGEL: Oh, come on.
Baselitz: It makes me furious. I'm disappointed with philosophy. I just saw an opera, a premiere by what's his name, our professor from Karlsruhe? The one with the hair?
SPIEGEL: Peter Sloterdijk.
Baselitz: He wrote the libretto for "Babylon." My God, is it awful.
SPIEGEL: Do you also pay attention to what your fellow painters are doing?
Baselitz: I live a secluded life. I live, in a sense, a lonely life. But I do pay very close attention.
SPIEGEL: The art-selling business has gone crazy. The gallerists who sell your works -- including Larry Gagosian, the world's most successful gallerist -- must be constantly asking you for more paintings. Is this a dilemma for someone like you, who demands quality and depth?
Baselitz: No. It's not a dilemma, and why should it be? It's really an ambition. I want to be part of it, to be young and belong. That has always been what I wanted.
SPIEGEL: But Richter tops the list of the most expensive living artists. Do you like him?
Baselitz: I'm always happy to listen to someone from (the eastern German state of) Saxony. Most Saxony natives are offended when you address them in the Saxon dialect. Gerhard never is.
Baselitz: Don't forget that, as an artist, I have been a risk-taker. And I've done a lot of different things. I don't make it easy for people. Identification is difficult. One doesn't recognize my art right away.
SPIEGEL: Turning motifs upside down, as you do it, is a unique characteristic.
Baselitz: Actually, no one who looks at my paintings can see whether a painting is upside down or not anymore. I've made or developed so many image models that some people have given up trying to keep track of me. But others have only one or two ways of doing things and are successful with that.
SPIEGEL: It's been said that you have painted all-black paintings or even painted over existing paintings with black paint. What is the point of that?
Baselitz: I don't paint over my paintings with black paint. I paint black paintings. It isn't because I'm sad, just as I didn't paint red paintings yesterday because I was happy. Nor will I paint yellow paintings tomorrow because I'm jealous.
SPIEGEL: There are a lot of lone wolves in your generation. But there's apparently enough room and money for you, Richter and Anselm Kiefer.
Baselitz: There are surprisingly many lone wolves, and they all run across the finish line as winners. Of course, when we got started, they were saying that panel painting was dead. But then came people like Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, as well as Richter, Kiefer and me. When I painted my first painting, still right-side-up, my teacher told me that it was an anachronism. I had to look up the word. Then I said: No, no, I'm an avant-gardist. What I do is quite aggressive and quite mean-spirited.