Georg Baselitz is, without doubt, one of the most prolific printmaker-artists working today. He began making prints very early in his career in 1963, aged 25, exploring – hands-on – traditional print techniques, in particular etching and woodcut, and this in the 1960s, when screenprint was the favoured medium for reproducing prints in quantity. Few artists have, over the span of their career, so persistently wrestled with the possibilities of printmaking in its many forms. Charles Booth-Clibborn has long admired and closely followed Baselitz’s intense examination of the medium. The opportunity of visiting the artist arose late in 2005 through a mutual friend, Graf Günter von der Schulenburg, who lived near the artist’s (then) home and studio Schloss Derneburg. Prior to this, Booth-Clibborn had expressed his strong interest in working with Baselitz in conversations with the artist’s son and Munich dealer, Daniel Blau. During the visit, Baselitz showed Booth-Clibborn some rough proofs he had done of monumental linocuts and suggested these as a project to be published by Paragon. For Booth-Clibborn, who as publisher always strives to get artists directly involved in the medium of print, this opportunity was a dream come true, and he gladly agreed.
Im Wald und auf der Heide (In the Woods and and on the Heath) marked a new departure for Paragon, as it was the first of a series of projects Booth-Clibborn published in collaboration with German artists. Baselitz had already cut all the linoleum blocks himself on the floor of his studio at Schloss Derneburg, but because of their scale it would have been physically impossible to print them all himself. Booth-Clibborn therefore asked Niels Borch Jensen, together with Mette Ulstrup, both of the Vaerkstadt for Kobbertryk in Copenhagen, to work with Baselitz on-site in his studio to print the edition. The prints were in fact made on the studio floor at Derneburg and printed on sheets that had been hand-coloured by Baselitz beforehand. With loose brushstrokes of varying intensity he applied the underlying thin layer of oil-based paint, giving each print a unique colouration and character. (Initial trial runs using watercolour failed, as the moisture of the water interfered too much with the paper, causing ripples.) Following the hand-colouring, Borch-Jensen and Ulstrup prepared the linoleum plates with black oil-based ink and placed them onto the sheet of paper. Each print was rubbed by hand on the floor, using a plastic squeegee to exert the correct degree of pressure. Baselitz, who had a large stock of paper in his studio, provided the paper used for the edition. The process of working on the floor is sometimes evident in handling marks, even footprints, on some of the sheets. The improvised and experimental way of printing is also reflected in a charming unevenness of inking.
The title for the series, Im Wald und auf der Heide, is the first line of a Romantic Jagdlied or ‘hunting song’ written by Wilhelm Bornemann (1766–1851) that became a popular German folk song. The motif of the lonesome cowboy made its first appearance in Baselitz’s work in 2002, when he started a series of new paintings on this subject since loosely grouped as ‘Cowboy paintings’. Here, he combines the cowboy with woods, a motif he had used in 1969, as subject of his first entirely upside-down painting Der Wald auf dem Kopf(The Wood on its Head), which was inspired by a painting by Ferdinand Rayski Wermsdorfer Wald(Wermsdorf Wood). Baselitz had been familiar with Rayski’s painting from his youth through reproductions. Another childhood memory is evoked through the title of the third print of the series Ich zeige Karl May (I offer you Karl May). The writer Karl May (1842–1912), like Baselitz a Saxon by birth, was persona non grata with the authorities of the former German Democratic Republic, mainly due to the fact that he had been one of Hitler’s favourite authors. Largely unknown in the UK and the United States, Karl May’s Wild West stories such as Old Shatterhand and Winnetou were once familiar to generations of German children. Today his characters are a little like the lonesome cowboy himself – an endangered species, no longer widely read. The images of Im Wald und auf der Heide themselves are marked by a jaded melancholy and stillness. The cowboy sits slumped on his horse, which in itself appears inert and lethargic, the weariness recalling another line of Bornemann’s song:
Und streich ich durch die Wälder,
und zieh ich durch die Felder
einsam den ganzen Tag,
einsam den ganzen Tag..
..and roam the woods
and wander the fields
lonely all day
lonely all day..