Environmental and Social Issues

Series: And the white-colored faces suddenly became black (atomic cloud), 1986, watercolor on paper, 74,8 x 55,5 cm

Style pluralism and the “hunger for images”

German art in the 1980s turned away from conceptual art and minimalism and, with the Neue Wilden, among others, returned to painting characterized by expressivity and emotionality with a great stylistic diversity. Expectations that the artist always has to reinvent images no longer apply. There is a new stylistic pluralism in art, which also draws on the images of past centuries and satisfies the “hunger for images” (Wolfgang Max Faust).

Due to personal upheavals, Ruth Baumgarte was able to devote more time to her painting during this time and in her art of the 1980s she dealt with social and political hotspots such as the arms race in the Cold War or the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Environmental and social issues now occupy a central place in her art.

“Symbolic shapes play an increasingly important role in this phase, the image levels push together and intertwine to form flat compositions. Gloomy, dark colors dominate, the representation moves away from a sober illustration towards symbolistic and sometimes surreal compositions.” (Eckhart J. Gillen, art historian and curator, Berlin)


To the oeuvre

In the East Village, 1988, watercolor and charcoal on paper, 74,9 x 55,3 cm

Uncomfortable social issues in art

In her art in times of upheaval, the painter takes the watercolor technique to absolute artistic heights. She loads the watercolors with uncomfortable social issues of her time and responds to society's political debates by depicting taboo topics in her art such as loneliness in old age, suicide or the AIDS epidemic. She makes the tension between people and the environment, the consequences of industrialization, visible in a series of works on the anti-nuclear power and environmental movement.

Her representations now move away from sober representations towards meaningfully heightened compositions. In her watercolors, complicatedly layered, translucent, flowing pictorial backgrounds now appear, which no longer give the subjects a secure hold in space. In a symbolic way, she draws attention to the fact that the supposed security of modern societies is becoming fragile. Where real scenes were once depicted, there are now symbols of the soul and sometimes surreal compositions. They are symbolic representations of vanitas (transience) and death in art that illustrate the unsettled society in a true-to-life way.