Born in 1940 in in Germany
Lives and works in (Germany )
Wolf Knoebel was born in Dessau in 1940. From 1962 to 1964 he studied at the Darmstadt School of Arts and Crafts, where he met Rainer Giese. The two artists developed a friendship and both decided to adopt the first name Imi, created from the acronym “Ich Mit Ihm” (“Me With He”). The two Imis then joined the Düsseldorf Arts Academy where they met Blinky Palermo and shared a studio space managed by Joseph Beuys. From 1966 to 1969, Knoebel produced the Lienenbilden series – almost ninety artworks made up of vertical and/or horizontal lines painted in black on a white background. These early works were radically minimal abstractions, contrasting strongly with those in Beuys’ entourage and testifying to Imi Knoebel’s fascination with the pioneers of geometric abstraction – above all with Kasimir Malevitch.
Two works from 1968 illustrate in particular the influence of Suprematism on the young Knoebel: Schwarzes Kreuz – a black cross made up of four painted panels, calling to mind the cornerstones of Malevitch’s geometric vocabulary, and Raum 19 – the studio that the two Imis occupied, transformed into an installation evoking not only 0.10, the Suprematist exhibition of 1915, but also Beuys’ installations. Whether it was in his abstract pictorialist production or installations evoking Raum 19, Knoebel seemed to be strongly marked by this two-fold influence. From Malevitch, and from Mondrian, he derived a pared-back style and a major preoccupation with the correct organisation of simple shapes. From Beuys, he borrowed an attention to materials and what their presence conveys.
In 1969, Knoebel created nearly two hundred and fifty thousand drawings on A4 sheets, systematically indexed and archived. From the 1970s, colour became the central focus of his research, initially through his search for a pure green, and then through a number of compositions made with minium (an orangish pigment namely used in anti-rust paint), and finally through the development of a veritable laboratory of colour where the artist collected all of the varieties of colour that were available in the acrylic paint market. The serial, systematic, and formal nature of this research, combined with an overall formal sobriety, probably explains why his art is often compared to American minimalism, emerging at the same time as his first creations.
This systematic way of working was not based in theosophy and its derivatives as it was for Mondrian and Beuys, but rather in sensitivity to the basic elements of the artwork itself. Knoebel would begin with these elements, but it was then a question of identifying a kind of necessity in the successive layers of work – finding what the artwork had to be. The creation of an artwork therefore became a search by trail and error for a concrete form of the absolute, with each intermediary step conserved like the archives of a unsuccessful experiment, like the simple documenting of a process.
Imi Knoebel’s body of work should not be confused, however, with a ‘solipsistic’ studio search that would allow him to turn the world aside and seek refuge in aesthetics. Between 2008 and 2011, when he created a collection of stained-glass windows for the Reims cathedral, he carried out a historically symbolic gesture – that of the work of a German artist on a cathedral bombed during the First World War. Since 1988, he has also regularly produced works entitled Kinderstern, the profits of which go to children’s aid projects. These “children’s stars” all draw on the same theme and are produced in a wide range of formats – and prices. They seem to reconnect with Beuys’ idea that art, a “social sculpture”, must transform society itself.