The „nail artist“

Being called a “nail artist” does not bother Günther Uecker, on the contrary: “People do need a sign, a logo… and with me it is the nail or the spear.”  (Annette Bosetti: Günther Uecker malt mit Nägeln, in Rheinische Post, 11th march 2010).

The present work „Light Disc“ from 1967 is a characteristic example of the most innovative and therefore most sought-after period in Uecker’s opus. His kinetic lightworks represent a crucial part of his oeuvre: through them, he managed to turn long standing conventions about how to look at space and imagery on their head.

The artist hammered hundreds of nails onto the disc and covered the pattern with white color. The motor moves the disc to provide a fascinating game of light and shadow, which keeps engaging the eye and bringing up new shapes. Here, Uecker created a singular elegance in art. The beauty and uniqueness of the creative work from those years lead to his inclusion in the Dokumenta Kassel in 1968 and the 35thBiennale in Venice in 1970.

Ueckers body played an important part in the dimension of his works: “The distance between the nails derives from the proportion of my hands. The thickness of my fingers is the space between my nails. The gap is the proportion of my hand.” (Stephan von Wiese in: Der Zustand Weiß; Günther Uecker, Schriften, Gedichte; St. Gallen, 1979, Seite 167.)

The many interpretations 

If the form of Uecker’s work is directional, the same can be said about the content of his nail paintings – representing so much more than just nailed planks. There are many interpretations: For some, the work corresponds to the idea of rebuilding Germany after the war, while others think of Christ’s passion. Uecker’s use of nails as a symbol for the hurt that the Nazis inflicted is another reading.

The artist himself adds a biographical note: When, at the end of the war, the Russians moved through his home village Wustrow on an island on the Eastern Sea, Uecker knew he had to protect his mother and sisters. So the then 14-year-old nailed all the windows and doors of their house shut. Much later, as an artist, he started with “hammering the pencil onto the paper…from there, it was only a small step to work with hammer and nails.” (Cornelius Tittel: Günther Uecker – mit Nägeln gegen die Russen, in Die Welt, 31.Mai 2012).

In 1961 Uecker had associated himself with the Group Zero, who broke artistic conventions after the war. They experimented with motors, light, metal, nails and fire. Uecker himself used hammering to put the concept of two-dimensionality into question – like Lucio Fontana did in Italy with his slashed canvases. The art form of a wall sculpture emerged as Uecker’s protruding nails reached far from the canvas into space. The works from this time, and “Light Disc” chiefly among them, are an enduring testimony to the artist’s incomparable innovative power.