How many coffee cups does it take to make up a woman drinking coffee? 1078, no more and no less. Whether coffee cups, shoes, condensed milk, breasts or beer mugs, in Thomas Bayrle’s work hardly anything is more important than the other, everything can become an element of an allover construct, exaggerating the repetition of the individual until something else, something greater, emerges from it. Thomas Bayrle has perfected the act of serial repetition in his artistic practice, placing himself somewhere in-between neo-dadaism and pop-art, creating lasting impact on the art world.  

Born in Berlin in 1937, Thomas Bayrle pursued an education as a textile engineer before studying design and print graphics in Offenbach, which has influenced his distinctive artistic approach. Bayrle first explored the technique of duplicating individual motifs and creating an overall composition out of them in the late 1960s. Turning away from gestural painting, he increasingly experimented with different printing techniques and by combining diminutive everyday pictorial motifs in seemingly endless repetition to create superordinate representations, Bayrle developed a new principle of composition - the "superform". Images of strong, almost hypnotic and dizzying visual impact which he constructed through the process of obsessive repetition of motifs taken from the popular and commercial visual vocabulary fall into the definition of "the superform".

Thomas Bayrle’s art doesn’t preach nor etch just shows things how they are in a discreetly humorous way. Despite his works being extremely characteristic, the artist avoids integrating personal notes into his creations and focuses completely on the technical side of works looking like the product of machines. To create this machine-like look, Bayrle uses an analogue way of creating: the work with wood or silkscreen. By endlessly repeating motifs, Bayrle questions the terms of the individual and masses, sets them in relation to one another and analyzes the role of the individual in society. "Lots of individuals that have a quality in their sum, that's what interested me”, states the artist. For his work, the artist chooses objects associated with current developments within society, thereby adding a criticizing aspect to his creations. His distinctive approach to art, Bayrle got to pass on to dozens of students like Tobias Rehberger, Thomas Zipp or Silke Wagner while teaching at Städelschule in Frankfurt.

His critical point of view was also the driving force behind his artwork “Flugzeug” shown at documenta 13 in the year 2012: Built out of 14 million small airplanes, the installation was created at the height of the disputes over the west runway at Frankfurt Airport: "At the time, it was important to me to point out that although we all complain about terrible aircraft noise, we are also sitting in it. All of my work is always fifty-fifty. I have criticism, but I'm also just as much a participant in this society and don't want to stand on the sidelines either." 

Thomas Bayrle’s work “Kartoffelzähler” is part of “100 days, 100 works – documenta artists (re-) discovered”-collection on misa.art, which releases one artwork by documenta-exhibited artists during this year's documenta fifteen. 

Featured image: picture-alliance / dpa / epa / Andreu Dalmau
Second image: Thomas Bayrle, Tassenfrau (Milchkaffee) [Cup Woman (White Coffee)], 1967. Silkscreen print on plastic.
Third image: Thomas Bayrle, Life in Shirs, 1970. Silkscreen, 60 x 70cm. Collection: UNIDA, Den Haag.
Fourth image: documenta 13