Günther Uecker was born in Wendorf, Mecklenburg (Germany) in 1930 in what was to become East Germany. He went to the art school in Berlin-Weißensee where attended a series of technical colleges where he studied painting and applied arts, which prepared him for a brief career designing slogans and propagandistic paintings for window displays and political events. During an international youth festival in 1951, he crossed over to West Berlin and was inspired by his first encounter with abstract art.
In 1955 he moved to Düsseldorf at the Kunstakademie under Otto Pankok , where he explored gestural abstract painting, which was then in vogue in Western Europe and known as Art Informel. He also made works dominated by bursts of dynamic lines suggestive of Italian Futurism. By 1958, after spending time with the French artist Yves Klein in the summer of 1957, Uecker had fused his interest in line and the tactility of paint with an exploration of the monochrome. Uecker’s monochromes combined thickly applied oil paint with vertical or horizontal striations traced in the surface. In 1958 he displayed one of these works—a red canvas with the imprint of an irregular gridlike pattern—in Das rote Bild (The Red Picture), the seventh one-night exhibition held at the studios of Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, artists who propagated a new beginning of art in opposition to the German Informel, founders of the Gruppo Zero (Group Zero), which Uecker would join in 1961. At this same time Uecker began to investigate the potential of nails as a material for his art. Initially, his experiments were an extension of his monochromes, as he embedded the nails into the surface of single-colored paintings and objects. While he could elicit a sensation of vibration through the play of light across the nails—especially when he created circles with nails inserted at varying depths—he achieved even more effective results by setting his compositions in motion. Simple motors rendered some works kinetic, and others, such as Tactile Rotating Structure (Taktile Struktur Rotierend, 1961), required the viewer’s manual activation.
Since 1966, after the group ZERO dissolved and a last joint exhibition, Uecker increasingly used nails as an artistic means of expression—he began hammering nails into pieces of furniture, musical instruments and household objects, and then he began combining nails with the theme of light, creating his series of light nails and kinetic nails and other works. Light and electricity continued to be one of the main subjects and natural materials such as sand and water were included in his installations, resulting in an interaction of the different elements to create a sensation of light, space, movement and time.
Uecker’s oeuvre includes painting, object art, installations as well as stage designs and films