Imi Knoebel was born Klaus Wolf Knoebel, in 1940, in Dessau. In 1950, he moved with his family to Mainz. From 1962 to 1964, he studied at the Werkkunstschule Darmstadt, together with Rainer Giese. In 1964, they both transferred to the Art Academy Düsseldorf and became members of the class of Joseph Beuys. From 1966 to 1969, the two artists who both took on the same pseudonym: »Imi,« established their studio in Room 19 at the Art Academy. The room had been provided by Beuys. At their studio, they manifested their shared artistic »Imi«-identity, and Imi Knoebel created his first purist as well as analytical Minimalist works.
With Room 19, done in that very room, Imi Knoebel for the first time realized – in a larger work – a specific principle of variations and differentiations. He employed this principle to explore the emergence of picture and form. Here, Knoebel concentrated on a material which remained decisive for his works in the years to come. He arranged large-format, rough stretchers and hardboards enforced with roof battens into pictorial figures or panels. The hardboards were unpainted at first, later Knoebel applied an undercoat, sometimes black, but most often white. These panels also appeared like an inspirational supply for later pictures. The emergence and interrelation of shapes, their figural density, seem to be random. Yet they create the impression of a fixed order. Depending on the incidence of light, proportions, color, and spatial disposition of the initially two-dimensional pictures coincide to create sculptural objects. Knoebel kept modifying his work, until it was exhibited asRaum 19 (II) at the Hessische Landesmuseum Darstadt, in 1992. A third version was exhibited in Leeds, in 2006. As stated by himself, Knoebel was influenced by Kazimir Malewitch’s theory of the Black Square and its postulate of the autonomous painting without reference to reality – whether subjectively felt or objectively given – and without the data of sense perception. Knoebel argued that the »world of non-figurative art« should first be newly »charted,« just like the model of Malevitch’s »Black Rectangle on White« suggested. Yet Knoebel changed Malevitch’s conceptual postulates by actually taking elements of his surroundings as a starting point of his art. Knoebel was interested in how minimal changes of objects that were initially devoid of sense could develop the power to generate pictures. This happened primarily through the variation of materials and their positioning in space. At first, Knoebel drew on geometrical patterns, on squares, and cross shapes (Schwarzes Doppelkreuz (Black Double Cross), 1968/85). Soon, he also organized the plywood boards which he painted in various colors into irregular and asymmetrical wall arrangements (Kadmiumrot O (Cadmium Red O), 1975/84). With his Mennigebilder (Red Lead Pictures), Knoebel again concentrated on the color red. He did wall pictures in specifically mixed color gradations of an anticorrosion paint of the same name. Polygonal and trapezoid silhouettes are dominant and evoke associations of single, superimposed, geometrical shapes (Mennigebilder, 1976/92).
Knoebel’s Linienbilder (Line Pictures), a series of 250,000 drawings done in the years between 1969 and 1973/75, appear like a preliminary exercise for the stringency of the pictures described above. The Linienbilder are kept in black cabinet towers. With drawing pen and Indian ink, Knoebel drew accurate horizontal and vertical lines, probed possibilities of structuring and partitioning the picture surface, and presented the single element as following its own, autonomous order. Variations of pictures emerge with fixed spacing, with vertically aligned lineaments only, or with diverging breadth of lines. In some works of the series, horizontal and vertical lines are superimposed to form a line structure that prepares the composition of the later, chromatic object or spatial installations and saw cuts made of wood or hardboard.
In the projected picture as medium, Knoebel continued his engagement with lines and planes. Examples are the slide projections with linear scratches or overpaintings developed in the 1970s, but also Knoebel’s only video work so far (Projektion X, 1972), the exterior projection of an X-shape. These markers provide the possibility for a different spatial approach. In the following years, the variations of color and shape continued to increase (24 Farben/ Für Blinky (24 Colors / For Blinky) 1977). With the Genter Raum (Gent Room) from 1980, Knoebel obviously reflected on the by now considerable archive and it’s creative potential for the realization of new pictures. From the mid-1970s on, Knoebel then turned towards a gestural use of color on layered plywood boards or metal plates (Drachenzeichnung (Dragon Drawing), 1980). Yet he also developed assemblages from bulky and shapeless materials, increasingly using titles invested with references (Afrika II, 1983). In the 1980s, Knoebel continued his associative loading of geometricizing picture elements and started to focus on the portrait (Grace Kelly VI-4, 1990). In more recent works, color has become increasingly important, and a surprisingly broad spectrum of color shades emerged in constructions of monochrome aluminum bars (LILOLA, 2002).
Knoebel’s works have been shown at various solo exhibitions in museums, for example, in Düsseldorf and Winterthur (1975, 1983). Since the 1970s, he has also participated in international exhibitions, among them the Documenta 5, 6, 7, and 8. In 1996, a retrospective was held at the Haus der Kunst, in Munich, and in 2004, Knoebel’s works were exhibited at the Kunsthalle Hamburg.
Imi Knoebel lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Imi Knoebel – Imi gegen groben Schmutz: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstverein Braunschweig. Katalog, hg. v. K. Grässlin, Köln 2003
Imi Knoebel, pure Freude: Ausst.-Kat. Kestner Gesellschaft, hg. v. C. Haenlein, C. Ahrens, Hannover 2002
Imi Knoebel, Linienbilder 1966 bis 1968: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstverein St. Gallen, Köln 1999
Imi Knoebel, Retrospektive 1968 — 1996: Ausst.-Kat. Haus der Kunst, München, hg. v. M. Bloem, H. Gassner. Ostfildern-Ruit 1996
Monochromie, Geometrie: Alan Charlton, Helmut Federle, Imi Knoebel: Ausst.-Kat. Sammlung Goetz, hg. v. I. Goetz, München, 1996