Thomas Bayrle was born in 1937, in Berlin. He was trained as a weaver and in 1958 became a student at the Werkkunstschule (Arts and Crafs School) Offenbach. Bayrle finished his studies in 1961. In 1971, he received a stipend at the Villa Massimo in Rome and has taught at the Städelschule, Hochschule für Bildende Künste (School of Fine Arts), Frankfurt, since 1975.
In the early 1960s, Bayrle focused on literature and commercial printing techniques rather than on fine arts. From 1962 to 1966, he worked on techniques of manual typesetting, stone lithography, and etching at »Gulliver-Presse« which he had initiated together with Bernhard Jäger. He also published artist books and texts, among them works by Franz Mon, Ernst Jandl, H. C. Artmann, and Bazon Brock.
Characterized by the serial as principle, Bayrle’s pictorial works are close to Pop Art. At the center of this politically engaged artist’s work are the human mass and the ornament of the mass as well as the world of mass production and mass products. »Between 1964 and 1966, I built motorized mass movements in the shape of machines. ›Drinking beer, ‹eating ice,« brushing teeth,’ »scouring with Ajax« (scrubbing powder), were confronted with Mao, Hitler, Ludwig Erhard. I tried to come up with a naïve image of the mechanics behind the masses» (Bayrle, in Kunstforum International, 148/1999). In his works, Bayrle makes use of the icons of everyday culture that mark mass society, mass culture, and mass production. Stamp techniques, pictorial patterns and rasters enable the thousand-fold representation of small product labels, logos, figures, and pictograms of oxen, shoes, tulips, or cups.
Next to the raster-like serigraphs or offset graphics, the effect of the machine and the relation between the single element and the whole in what Bayrle calls »Superform« have been of major interest to the artist since the 1960s, also in his objects. The relation between the single element and the »Superform« is exactly fixed. In the mass ornaments which he also takes from East Asian cultural contexts Bayrle finds an aesthetic formula for the collectivization of the individual, for the merging of the individual into society. In Ajax (1966) and Baby (1967), for example, detail and whole are closely related as to their contents. Ajax is a kinetic wood relief in a bottle-shaped box object, and Baby is composed of cows’ heads carrying thousands of stamps. Sometimes, the general form takes up the specificity of the single structure, the many pictograms and signs – in analogy to the text – making up the general form of the picture or the object. Examples of such forms are a cup (Tassentasse / Cup’s Cup, 1969) or a Maggi (soup seasoning) bottle (Roter Platz / Red Square, 1982/96). The principle of seriality as well as the relation between internal and external form reflect Bayrle’s earlier involvement with textile materials and with the structures that emerge in working these materials (Mäntel vor Schuhraster / Coats in front of Shoe Rasters, 1967; Revolutionäre Kräfte ernten Raps / Revolutionary Forces Harvest Rapeseed, 1968). Moreover, he not only applied his raster structures to pictures, but also to wall-paper, curtains, or coats.
Since the late 1970s, Bayrle also made films, for example: Auto / Car (1979), where he created individual works with three-dimensional, interlaced sections of streets and autobahn. These works are comparable to his later work Holland (1999). Bayrle belongs to the earliest German artists engaging in computer-generated and computer-animated art. With his computer animations and collages of the 1980s and 1990s that are based on drawings, he again refers to common, everyday pictorial sujets (Madonna Jaguar, 1988, designed with Stefan Mück). Or he takes up everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, brushing of teeth, or shaving ((b)alt / (b)old, 1997). As in the field of print graphics, Bayrle again uses the medium itself to critically reflect on technologies geared towards mass reproduction. And again he formulates his critique in the generating and mediating of pictures, in forms that are specific to the medium. The relation between the single and the »Superform,« for example, remains an aspect of these digitalized variants, as does the ubiquity of technical reproduction.
Since the 1960s, Bayrle’s works have been shown in solo and in group exhibitions, for example: »Schrift und Bild,« Kunsthalle Baden (1963), Galleria Apollinaire, Milan (1968). He participated in the Documenta in 1977. In the last two decades, his works have been exhibited at the Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, the ZKM, Museum für Neue Kunst & Medienmuseum Karlsruhe, and the Kunstmuseum Thun, at the Kunsthaus Zurich, at the Frankfurt Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK), and at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. In 1995, Bayrle received the Ars Electronica award in Linz for his animated graphics Superstars, and in 1998 he was awarded the Hessischer Staatspreis für Kultur. In 2000, he received the KUNSTKÖLN-Preis (now: Cologne-Fine-Art-Prize).
Thomas Bayrle lives and works in Frankfurt/Main.
Bayrle, Thomas; Birnbaum, Daniel u.a.: 40 Years Chinese Rock’n Roll. Buch zur Ausstellung in Frankfurt, Köln 2006
Thomas Bayrle: Ausst.-Kat. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Revolver, Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst, Frankfurt/M. 2002
Bernhard Uske, Thomas Bayrle: Film: Ausst.-Kat. Frankfurter Sparkasse von 1822, Frankfurt /M. 1998
Kölle, Brigitte: Thomas Bayrle. Grafik von 1967 — 72 und animierte Grafik von 1979 — 94, Köln 1995
Thomas Bayrle: Ausst.Kat. Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/M. 1994
Bayrle Big Book, Köln 1990
Thomas Bayrle: Pinsel durchgespielt: Ausst.Kat. Kunstverein Freiburg 1989
Thomas Bayrle. Druckgrafik: Ausst.-Kat. Städt. Galerie Wolfsburg 1983