Born in Silesia, a German province that became part of Poland after World War II, Sigmar Polke moved to West Germany in 1953. Following a brief apprenticeship with a glassmaker, he studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he met Gerhard Richter. Polke first used photomechanical dots in his painting in 1963, marking the start of his image manipulations.
In the 1970s, Polke began superimposing iconographic and abstract motifs. While continuing to diversify the type of medium he used (printed or transparent), he also worked with pigments and rarer materials such as lacquers, solvents, artificial resins, silver oxide and arsenic. This constant experimentation, use of transparent mediums and fabrics printed with commonplace motifs and borrowing of pre-existing images make his painting varied, hybrid and rich. By using iconography relating to traumatic historical events (the Reign of Terror, concentration camps) and by “quoting” famous artists (Goya, Dürer), Polke invites the viewer to question the authority of representation. Open to contradiction, he proposes, alongside this critical reading of the image, a hallucinatory experience, as suggested metaphorically by one of his series, Laterna Magica.