Biography of Blinky Palermo
Few artists are more mythologized than Blinky Palermo, whose life and art were indelibly fused together. Since his premature death in 1977, aged just 33, from what is commonly believed to be excessive drug use, his artwork and personality have achieved a cult following. He is best known for his sparse monochromatic canvases and his fabric paintings, that consisted of colored material stretched across a frame.
Born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig in 1943, he was put up for adoption by his birth mother and took the name Heisterkamp from his new parents. He only discovered that he was adopted after his adoptive mother died young in 1958, an event that left him devastated. He enrolled at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1962, were he became the star pupil of Joseph Beuys. It was Beuys who encouraged the use of his outrageous nickname, Blinky Palermo—the name of an American Mafioso and boxing promoter.
During the 1960s Blinky Palermo experimented with unusual shaped canvases, such as circles, triangles and even interior building walls. Unlike many of his contemporaries he was always open to the experience of art history. Throughout his oeuvre there was a complexity in his visual presentation that was minimal in style and harbored deep-rooted doubts about inherent conventions in painting.
Between the mid-60s and 1972 he began producing fabric paintings, using everyday fabric he bought from department stores and stitching them together. The results may appear quick and easy, but their stunning color combinations were beautiful and full of depth, stirring a “positive yearning for the absent intimacy” of the painter’s hand. Undoubtedly, Blinky Palermo expanded the traditional parameters of painting, and in the instance of his fabric works, did so by eliminating painting altogether.
Alongside his close-friend Gerhard Richter, Blinky Palermo visited New York in 1970, returning there again in 1973 to set up his practice for a few years. Once back in Dusseldorf he produced one of his most famous artworks, To the People of New York City, a work consisting of 39 aluminum panels painted in the colors of the German flag.
Blinky Palermo has exhibited around the world including Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Serpentine Gallery, London, and the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. His work can be found in the public collections of MoMA in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London. In 2010 an artwork of Blinky Palermo’s sold at Sotheby’s auction in London for £1.1 million. His twin brother, Michael Heisterkamp, is now the sole heir and owner of the Palermo copyright. Blinky Palermo’s limited editions and multiples are exceedingly rare and highly-sought after.