Reinhard Pods grew up in a bygone reality. Six years after the end of the Second World War, his life began in West Berlin, in an exclave under the administration of three occupying powers. The appealing resonance of that city’s name—recalling Marlene Dietrich and the grandeur of the 1920s—is deceptive, because the former capital was a divided territory cut off from the rest of the world. The major museums were almost all on the other side, in the Eastern Sector. The artistic epicenter of West Germany, on the other hand, was in Frankfurt or in the Rhineland, in Cologne or Dusseldorf, where Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter were teaching.

In spite of this isolation in terms of cultural politics, Pods already knew early on that he wanted to become an artist. At the age of twenty, he enrolled at the Hochschule der Klinste (now the Berlin University of the Arts, UdK) to study painting. The decade of the 1970s, most of which Pods spent at this university, went down in the annals of history as a calm one—particularly in comparison to the ten years before it, when Pop Art and Minimal Art were followed by Post-Minimalism, and art history was being written at the tempo of an express train. While postmodernism had quickly made its mark on philosophy and architecture, art struggled to process the paradigm shift implied by it. Everything seemed possible and simultaneously impossible.

Pods found his master in Karl Horst Hödicke, who had been heading his own painting class at the Hochschule der Klinste since 1974. Influenced by the dominant style of Art lnformel and Abstract Expressionism, Hödicke liber­ated himself from its dogmatism. He introduced realistic pictorial worlds and, by uniting Fluxus with painting, he provided a living example of the principle of As-Well-As. Above all, he acknowledged Pods’s talent as an emerging artist and made him believe in the possibility that he might become an important painter. Hödicke’sintellectual openness and the path he had chosen became Pods’s compass, analyzed in discussions that went on for hours about ‘what’ and ‘how’ to paint.

When Pods was awarded a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in 1977, he followed the path that Hödicke had once taken in the mid-1960s, when he shot experimental films in New York for a year an attempt to wipe the slate clean, so to speak. For $125 per month, Pods found a flat in Little Italy, not far from the Bowery and the legendary concert venue CBGB—the no-wave movement was at its height. The East Village was coming to life as a new art district, studded with alternative galleries. In SoHo in 1979, the brand-new art gallerist Mary Boone presented not just one but two solo shows of the new superstar Julian Schnabel: both exhibitions of his plate paintings sold out in a flash. Contemporary art became a new market – youthfulness was suddenly no longer a disadvantage and had even become a selling point. Pods distanced himself from this garish commercialism and made the choice to work quietly, to concentrate on painting. He remained unmoved by the discussions about the supposed end of painting that were also going on at that time. He preferred to go to the museums to admire the paintings of American masters, such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline or Clyfford Still—whose work could not be seen anywhere in Berlin—or Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings, which he discovered in New York and which were mocked in the commentaries of American art critics. The fluorescent tubes of Dan Flavin (and conceptual art in general) likewise stuck in his memory, but also an unforgettable figure by Giacometti. Under the impact of all these impressions and influences, Pods also wiped his slate clean: he discarded his previous painting, which had been defined by representationalism, in order to approach his work in a more gestural and intuitive manner. This went as far as a frenzied state, in which one layer of paint followed another, reworked wet-on-wet in rapid succession. Leaving behind the solipsistic claims of figurative painting, Pods established a contemporary connection to the energy of Jackson Pollock, only to sever it again in the next step. He lived out Hödicke’s As-Well-As by painting both abstractly and representationally and, additionally, by employing language as a purely Dadaistic element.

When Pods returned to Berlin, he was confronted with the renewed isolation of the city of his birth. In 1979, following the advice of Hödicke and together with Frank Dornseif, ter Hell, Elke Lixfeld, Rainer Mang and Gerd Rohling – he founded the self-help gallery 1/61, which was named after the Kreuzberg postcode and had over 400 m2 of exhibition space. After their collective opening exhibi­tion, it was utilised successively by the artists. This alterna­tive art venue became a gigantic success and the 1/61 group became the adversaries to the Galerie am Moritzplatz, whose founders included artists like Salomé, Helmut Middendorf, Rainer Fetting, Stefan Roloff, Luciano Castelli and Bernd Zimmer. At the final exhibition, ter Hell—another graduate of Berlin’s Hochschule der Künste—presented his painting Hi Jackson, from 1979. This greeting is casually painted in large red letters on a white canvas. The work, which Pods still admires today, represents Hell’s playful approach to the history of art. Here, the master of American abstraction is addressed by his first name, a gesture producing a starkly nonchalant effect. Pods, who also inserts verbal fragments into his painting, prefers to engage in a complex and contradictory dialogue with history and the present. Within the possibility of painting lies the impossibility of representation and this battle constantly has to be fought out all over again. When the Neue Wilden achieved international success and Berlin was suddenly in vogue, Pods was living in Florence as a recipient of the Villa Romana prize. When he later moved outside of Genoa, he did not even have a telephone connection. Nonetheless, an astounding number of art experts found their way to him to admire the pictures that he paints quickly, as he says, because only then do they take on a life of their own.