A.R. Penck: Michael Werner at Independent
The Observer
Ryan Steadman
6 March 2015

Independent sports a group of smart and talented young painters this year, led by Torey Thornton, Nicolas Party, Julia Rommel, Becky Kolsrud and Michiel Ceulers. But at the end of the day, it’s an easel-sized painting from 1977 by A.R. Penck that steals this show.

Fairs like Independent allow viewers everything but time, and Mr. Penck’s gripping Dresden serves you time by the barrelful. What we see rendered in the painting are faces and figures of beautiful women and gaunt men from another time and place, some in rough outline, some barely rendered at all. Crosses and other crude symbols are also scattered throughout this tightly packed jigsaw puzzle of tangerine, ochre, incandescent green, and sky blue.

But Dresden is so much more than color and line. It unleashes the ghosts of Germany’s haunted past. It is the rebirth of painting as a brave stance against a totalitarian regime. It is an influence powerfully felt across an ocean by artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, an influence that is still seen in the work of fledgling painters like Mr. Thornton and Ms. Kolsrud. It is a history so potent that it is inextricable from what we see–beautiful colors and elegant lines–and it will always feel contemporary.