A. R. Penck is among the first generation of artists that was greatly shaped by the historical, economic, and cultural rift that occurred in postwar Germany. Born Ralf Winkler, Penck lived under the totalitarian government of East Germany until he emigrated to the West in 1980. He began painting at the age of ten but was repeatedly rejected from state art academies as his work was not in line with the state-approved style of Socialist Realism. In response to this rejection, Penck studied reproductions of works by Rembrandt and Picasso, establishing his reputation as a self-taught artist, filmmaker, jazz musician, and poet, and eventually smuggled his works to West Germany for exhibition under various pseudonyms, including A. R. Penck, which became his primary alias.
Penck is best known for the codified, schematic vocabulary of "standarts" he developed in the late 1960s. Comprised of graffiti-style stick figures and symbols, this pictorial language was inspired by Penck's study of the history of communication from ancient cave drawings to cybernetics. Designed as a series of "direct symbols," his pictographs were a means of addressing social and political issues, as well as those of identity and rationality.
Along with artist friends Georg Baselitz and Jörg Immendorff, Penck displayed an enthusiasm for the woodcut medium, which proved ideally suited to his bold, Neo-Expressionist style, as evidenced by prints such as Nightvision. Although he first started making small printed editions for personal use while living in East Germany, Penck began producing them in larger numbers after emigrating to the West. He has made approximately four hundred prints to date in lithography, etching, screenprint, and woodcut.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 208.