MUSICIAN, HUNTER, BOXER, poet, soccer fan, professor, driving enthusiast, dandy: All are equally relevant epithets one might use to describe Markus Lüpertz. However, the 72-year-old German artist thinks the only correct qualifier is painter. Even sculptor doesn’t fit the bill. When working in three dimensions, he keeps his gaze focused on individual 2-D planes, a practice that often results in asymmetrical, disproportional, and ultimately controversial takes on such figures as Hercules, Mozart, Mercury, Beethoven, and David.
Having emerged on the scene in the 1960s, Lüpertz stands today as one of Germany’s foremost representatives of the postwar avant-garde. He is being celebrated with shows in London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan over the next year. And a major exhibition, “Markus Lüpertz: Symbols and Metamorphosis” is on view at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg through May 25. But for all his gruff posturing, skull-handled walking sticks, snake tattoos, and chains the man we met in Teltow, a town in the former East, just outside the Berlin border, is markedly personable.
Split into thirds— with sections for painting, large-scale sculpting, and office work— the former storage warehouse-cumstudio opens itself like a historical record of his work: a German soldier’s World War II helmet that formed the basis for some of his earliest paintings; models for varying large-scale sculptural commissions over the past five years; gypsum replicas of classical busts and religious sculptures (he’s a staunch proponent of the church); and a smattering of skulls and stuffed game collected over time.
Sculpture of David:
The artist always makes four versions of figures to be cast at a foundry. Usually David is depicted holding a slingshot, but Lüpertz thought, Why not have him hold a bunch of grapes instead? Then viewers might mistake him for Bacchus.
Sketches and Portraits:
The skulls, replicas of classical sculptures, and other things found in the studio are mostly for the many sketches Lüpertz makes. However, many of the works are also from friends and students from when he was director of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. One is a portrait by his student Junior Toscanelli depicting Lüpertz as a young man; another is of him in Berlin in the early ‘70s.
The whole work is 18 meters high and stands on a 90-meter-tall tower in Gelsenkirchen. The red lines mark out each individual mold from which to make model components. This figure is Hercules. There is a statue of Hercules in Kassel as well, but it’s only 8 meters tall.
This is one work in a new series called “Idylle.” To arrive at a final image, Lüpertz experiments with versions of a given motif, such as the torso and landscape here. These efforts rarely satisfy him; he leaves the paintings in his studio for a year after first working on them. That way, no work in a series leaves the studio before all are completed.
Lüpertz suffered a car accident in Italy, which left him needing a cane, although he’d already used one before, purely for style. Some of these are canes, others painting sticks. He uses them for support when making precise lines.