Werner Büttner

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Büttner's canvases and collages depict a tragi-comic reality, confronting social norms with both irony and satire, while retaining a firm grip on the history of painting.

Werner Büttner (b. 1954, Jena, Germany) is renowned for drawing out deeper layers of meaning from quotidian life that at first glance seem banal. His canvases and collages depict a tragi-comic reality, confronting social norms with both irony and satire, while retaining a firm grip on the history of painting. Driven by this unapologetic philosophy, Büttner, alongside Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, became a reactive voice in Hamburg in the late 1970s. The trio felt that art needed to depict the failures of human morality within society. The subversive visual language they shaped, dubbed ‘Bad Painting’, dispensed with painterly conventions of technique and taste, in favour of an aesthetic that defiantly reinvented the medium.

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Werner Büttner (b. 1954, Jena, Germany) is renowned for drawing out deeper layers of meaning from quotidian life that at first glance seem banal. His canvases and collages depict a tragi-comic reality, confronting social norms with both irony and satire, while retaining a firm grip on the history of painting. Driven by this unapologetic philosophy, Büttner, alongside Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, became a reactive voice in Hamburg in the late 1970s. The trio felt that art needed to depict the failures of human morality within society. The subversive visual language they shaped, dubbed ‘Bad Painting’, dispensed with painterly conventions of technique and taste, in favour of an aesthetic that defiantly reinvented the medium.

Büttner’s work is rooted in traditional subject matter, such as still life, landscape, self-portraiture, allegory, historical painting, and nudes, all executed with a slovenly realism that cultivates imperfection and reflects the artist’s personal history, coming of age in post-war Europe, pre-German reunification. His paintings arise from the dark edges of society, developed in series – although they are not categorised by a standardised set of criteria, but instead guided by self-imposed, enigmatic parameters. Büttner’s medium is humour: dark, unapologetic, absurd. His carefully crafted titles reveal a finely tuned sense of irony, at the same time uncovering often crude and bitter truths.  

Büttner’s practice explores the relentless folly of our misguided society. A lasting inspiration for the artist is Francisco Goya, who he describes as ‘the first painter not to cave in the laws of his time and be governed by his conscience, a bookkeeper of the horrors of the factual that translated ecstasy into profanity’. In a similar fashion, Büttner confronts the tumult of political and socioeconomic misfortune. He dismisses technical aptitude in art, and instead works on conveying what he sees as brutally and honestly as possible. With an amiable lack of respect, Büttner presents a radical vision of truth.  

Selected Works
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