Georg Baselitz and the Graspability of Hands

Georg Baselitz has been much preoccupied by the subject of hands, old hands, recently. His own hands? The hands of others? The hands drawn and painted by artists of the past? An amalgam of all three perhaps. Hands show off and encapsulate extremities of emotion – think of the reaching index finger of God’s hand executed by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, or of the outstretched hands of Jesus on the cross in Tintoretto’s giant and majestic Crucifixion in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, the painting which so overwhelmed John Ruskin that he became almost delirious.

Baselitz Eine Hand ist keine 1 (2019), etching with sugar lift aquatint

In Goldness Darkness, his recent exhibition at White Cube, the hands were huge in size and gilded. In spite of the fact that Baselitz is an atheist, they often had an aura of sacredness about them. This new series at Cristea Roberts, a well lit and finely appointed gallery in Pall Mall, situated almost opposite Gainsborough’s London residence during those years when he was such a swank, is a more modest and intimate affair altogether.

Baselitz Eine Hand ist keine Faust VIII (2019) etching with drypoint

Baselitz’s hands are disembodied hands, nothing but hands, hands of and for themselves, unique objects of extended contemplation: how a hand can fall and gesture, fingers furling, stiffly, back on itself; or a hand hanging limp, downwards, almost flailing, like a helpless octopus. Single hands can look helplessly seeking, striving to find and to mean and perhaps never quite finding; bereft, too much a fragment of the human presence

These are uniquely vulnerable prints (etchings and aquatints) of hands in an extraordinary range of hues of ink, from viridian green to sanguine to terracotta. The gilding of those paintings at White Cube smothered their subject, turning them into symbols, objects of value. The hands in this show, all made in his studio on the Ammersee outside Munich, and then printed by a master printer in Denmark, are more particularised, more helplessly alone and appealing, more graspable in their vulnerable singularity.

Georg Baselitz: Hands runs at Cristea Roberts Gallery, 43 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4JG until 15 May.

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