Jiří Georg Dokoupil is an artist of Czech origin born in 1954 in Krnov. However, he grew up and now lives in Germany. He is one of the most important figures of postmodernist art in Western Europe. At the start of his career Dokoupil’s work featured naive figural painting, though he later availed himself of more expressive forms. He is known for his sometime membership of the Mulheimer Freiheit group of painters based in Kolín nad Rýnem, where he shared a studio with four other artists (Adamski, Boemmels, Kever and Nashberger). It was also here that he formulated one of the first postmodern approaches, inter alia a radical absorption of previous artistic forms, a distance from artistic heroism and the phrase “bad painting” as a synonym of the postmodern artistic paradigm.
Dokoupil’s oeuvre means for postmodernism a typical excursion through various formal styles of painting. Naive art alternates with energetic and expressive cycles of pictures. Gradually Dokoupil matured into a radical revaluation of a style dependent on the brush. He began to regard painting as the constant invention of technique. Following the example of his father, an inventor, he began to create large cycles of pictures in which the technical element of execution above all changed. One of the best known of his cycles involves the candle paintings. Using soot Dokoupil “paints” all manner of conventional genres: female nudes, large canvases of panthers, a steam locomotive disappearing into the distance, fragments of floor tiles and interiors, etc. After the candle paintings, to which Dokoupil still returns, he created cycles of abstraction executed with tyres crisscrossing the canvas, paintings created with coloured soap bubbles, and monumental “film canvases”. These involve reprints of individual sequences or frames of an entire film on canvas, in which the gradual disappearance of colour results in a coalescence of homogenous vertical or horizontal colour structures. He also creates pictures which have been through a washing machine, pictures using a whip, potato prints, etc.
This involves the configuration of certain rules of the game. For Dokoupil the privileged field for this game is the painterly canvas and the hung picture. In his way he proceeds on the basis of the knowledge acquired at art schools and the direction of painting media across modern art of the 20th century. He attempts, as he himself is happy to admit, to redefine the picture. For postmodernism a revaluation of modernism was essential. This ensues above all from the wholesale societal and political changes of the sixties and seventies.
Dokoupil’s approach to painting, in which the aesthetic of technique to which the canvas is subject becomes the content of the subject of art, is to an extent innovative for former artistic tendencies, above all if we are aware of the expansive strength of German painting after the second world war to the present day. Germany offered powerful themes, a dark past, as well as absurdity and existential questions relating to the individual. So if we see Dokoupil’s work as part of a certain whole within a certain segment of the development of art (especially of the 80s and 90s), it unquestionably plays an irreplaceable role.