In an interview published on artinfo.com earlier this year, Dorothy Iannone, the self-taught American painter known for her sexually-charged and psychedelic imagery, lamented that the work of Andrea Tippel was yet to receive the recognition it deserved. I have witnessed similar sentiments in the Hamburg art scene over the past few months, prompted by Tippel’s death in April 2012. Born in the Black Forest region of Germany in 1945, Tippel studied, not visual art, but acting, philosophy and psychology. Although she lived most of her life in Berlin, she is perhaps best known for her work as a professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg, where she influenced many emerging artists and earned a reputation for her fierce and wide-ranging intellect. Organized by the artist before her death, the exhibition Zeichnungen aus den 70ern (Drawings from the 70s) featured small, uniformly-framed drawings which Tippel produced when she was in her late 20s and early 30s and began forging her own aesthetic style after being initially inspired by the works of Tomas Schmit, Dieter Roth and the Fluxus movement of the 1960s.
Vom Sammeln und Jagen (Of Collecting and Hunting, 1976) – 30 sequential images of a house as well as other basic symbols such as a sun, a rabbit, a chair and a clock – exemplifies Tippel’s interest in illustrations that are at once diagrams and doodles. At first glance, the work appears to casually present different junctures of a scientific theory; yet its meaning ultimately remains out of reach and is complicated further by idiosyncratic hand-written texts such as ‘die immobilen hier halt! morgen wo anders’ (‘the immobiles stop here! tomorrow somewhere else’), which play with word association (‘Immobilien’ is the German word for real estate) and shift the diagrammatic into the poetic. Evoking the playful, and sometimes impenetrable, language games of writers such as James Joyce or E. E. Cummings, the majority of Tippel’s drawings in this exhibition highlight a close relationship between art and poetry, which was a characteristic that continued throughout her career.
When not overtly concerned with diagrams, Tippel’s drawings may recall Sigmar Polke’s semantic-orientated drawings from the 1960s, such as Guten Morgen (Good Morning, 1965), which depicts a toothbrush carrying a tube of toothpaste adjacent to the words ‘Guten Morgen’. Tippel’s drawings are more literal, such as Papierskulptur (Paper sculpture, 1974), depicting a vertical roll of paper with a human-like hand touching itself, or ICH FLIEGE (I FLY, 1971), a large fly with a speech bubble that simply says ‘ICH FLIEGE’. Whereas Polke’s early drawings can be understood as ironic reflections on West German capitalism, Tippel’s early drawings seem like concrete poetry with symbols; her treatments of visual and linguistic puns are drier than Polke’s and foreground the very process of connecting signifiers with their signifieds.
Tippel’s use of colour remains a recognizable feature of her more mature work, although the majority of works here were either rendered with a dark grey pencil or had understated colours. What the exhibition did reveal of Tippel’s subsequent work was her interest in classifying phenomena. Numerous sketches of diagrams or schemas appear to be playing out secret and eccentric rationales, as if in an effort to aestheticize, or to beautify, the formal structures in which information is presented. Hopefully the exhibition will spark an examination of Tippel’s significance to recent German art history and of the impact of her presence in the art scenes of Hamburg and Berlin.