Winfried Gaul was born in 1928 in Düsseldorf. As he stated himself, he did not receive any education in the arts during his childhood or as an adolescent. As a 16-year old, Gaul became a soldier and was sent to the eastern front-lines in 1945, during the last weeks of the war. After the war, he finished school and started to study art history and German language and literature at the University of Cologne in 1949.
In 1950 Gaul enrolled at the State Academy of Art and Design, Stuttgart, where he studied until 1953 under Willi Baumeister and Rolf Henninger. During the same year he went to Paris for the first time and met Jean-Pierre Wilhelm. Wilhelm, an art expert, had emigrated to France and returned to Düsseldorf in 1957 to open theGalerie 22. He introduced Gaul to informal painting, and Gaul studied the works of Wols, Fautrier, Dubuffet, Hartung, Soulages, and Mathieu. This involvement with the Paris Informel found its expression in Gaul’s works of the 1950s. Pictures emerged that were material-conscious and expressive as to their gesture and coloring. From 1955 on Gaul had his own studio in Kaiserswerth near Düsseldorf. He became friends with Peter Brühnung and, in 1953, joined the »Gruppe 53« / »Group 53« as a member.
Gaul’s first solo exhibition took place in 1956 at the Galerie Gurlitt in Munich. The artist himself said about his ways of working that he painted in intense intervals or surges that were always based on concrete concepts (Interviews 1988 und 1998). Gaul freed himself from the phase of the Informel with a series of White Paintings that already started in 1959 with works like Blanc Angélique / Angelical White and led to Signal pictures that were composed in strictly geometrical ways. The radical departure from the gestural style of the Informel is not the only characteristic trait of Gaul’s painting which kept reconstituting itself. As the artist himself put it: »I am without brand,« suggesting that his work is not stylistically fixed, but rather marked by stages. Gaul was of the opinion that »every style turns into a dead end street, if one does not, like Picasso, find a way out at the right time or zigzags like a hare, …« (Ibid.)
Still, there are two aspects that link the phases of Gaul’s work to each other. He experimented consistently and continuously with the format of his pictures: squares positioned on one edge, tondi, upright rectangles with transverse rectangular projections at the upper picture margin, triangles or side and height dimensions that change in three-step and allude to triptychs. Another aspect that remains consistent is Gaul’s intense involvement with the means used for painting (paints and supports) and the application technique: conservative, with oil and brush on canvas, innovative, with varnish on wood, with acrylic, dispersion paint or screen printing ink on linen or cotton. Next to brushes, Gaul used wipers, and sponges as painting tools.
In his œuvre, Gaul – the painter who worked in »surges« – engaged with contemporary painting, such as Informel, Color Field painting, Op Art and Pop Art, or Hard-Edge painting, and drew on historical art through formats, picture boundaries, and techniques.
In 1964/65 Gaul was a guest lecturer at the Staatliche Kunstschule in Bremen. From 1967 to 1969 he lived in Antwerp/ Belgium, lives and works from now on also in Liguria and Düsseldorf. Between 1969 and 1973 he created three large sculptures for the University of Heidelberg. Gaul had already participated in the Documenta II in 1959, and in 1969 his Farbmarkierungen / Color Markers were presented at the Documenta. A large traveling exhibition that showed his paintings toured Germany in 1973.
Wilfried Gaul died in 2003 in Düsseldorf.
Winfred Gaul: in Bildern denken: Malerei von 1958 — 2003: Ausst.-Kat. Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, hg. v. K. Wettengl, Dortmund 2005
Kettler, H.: Winfred Gaul: Unterwegs zum Bild, o.O. 2003
Posca, C.: Interview mit Winfred Gaul: Jeder Stil wird zur Sackgasse, in: Althöfer, H. (Hg.): Informel. Der Anfang nach dem Ende, Bd.1, Dortmund 1999
Romain, L.: Winfred Gaul der Maler, München 1999
Winfred Gaul: Ohne rechten Winkel, Malerei 1964 — 1989: Ausst.-Kat. von der Heydt-Museum, hg. v. S. Fehlemann, Bönen 1998
Romain, L.: Winfred Gaul. Werkverzeichnis, Bd. 1: 1949 — 61; Bd. 2: 1962 — 83, Düsseldorf 1991/93
Thiel, H.: Interview Winfred Gaul: Ich war schon vor 30 Jahren postmodern, in: Kunstforum 96, 1988
Gaul, W.: Picasso und die Beatles: Erinnerungen, Aufsätze, Kommentare zur Kunst nach ’45, Lamspringe 1987