Blobs of white pigments trail off into spider webs. Held within glittering icicle patterns, black calligraphic marks doodle across swathes of turquoise paint. There are pools of luminous purple and pink, and inky green acrylic layers rippling off a column of pale grey curlicues, superimposed in turn on veils of white and red washes.
What fun Polke must have had pouring, spilling, blotting and dripping colours, playing with chance and accident – yet nevertheless achieving an ornamental elegance, fragile beauty and intriguing ambiguity. Sometimes skeins of iridescent paint floating in black voids are overlaid with sinister representational images: pixel-dot black heads emerging like shadows from a seeping crimson-white ground; a pearlescent blue surface stencilled with banal outlines of children watching a TV screen where a hand is about to plunge a knife. Throughout, powdered mica and other material suspended in the viscous paint create illusions of shifting light and space – unstable, provisional, laconic.
In the 1960s Polke and Gerhard Richter were the closest of friends; by the 1980s, Richter recalls, “Polke drifted away into the psychedelic direction and I into the classical.” The 18 large multimedia “Pour Paintings” in this exhibition were made between 1985 and 2004, and their hallucinatory colour effects, deconstructed supports and embrace of the ephemeral demonstrate what Richter meant – though there is classical rigour here too.
But “poison just crept into my pictures”, Polke said of this time when he began experimenting with unlikely materials such as meteor dust, purple dye extracted from boiling snails, and uranium. Subverting and enriching painting as here, Polke has a lightness of being, an impression of transparency – he began his career as apprentice to a glassmaker – unmatched by other Germans of his anarchic postwar generation.