'What art really comes down to is imagery rather than content or religious fervor or things of that kind. It is a question of cogency of the pictorial construction'
(G. Baselitz, interview with D. Koepplin, D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London, 2010, p. 131).
Created in June of 1985, Schritt über die Schwelle 3-18.VI.1985 (Step Over the Threshold) was made at a critical moment in Georg Baselitz's career. Having championed the Neo Expressionist movement in German art, in the years leading up to 1985, Baselitz began incorporating religious iconography into his paintings, reinventing and reworking familiar icons in a startling and radically new way, such as in his celebrated Supper in Dresden, 1983, housed in the Kunsthaus Zürich. Executed in June of 1985, Step Over the Threshold continues this radical revisiting of traditional religious iconography, but is marked by the artist's increasing tendency toward reductive and flat forms. One of an important group of paintings from 1985 depicting the inverted figures of the Virgin Mother and Christ, a similar work from the same year, Die Nacht (The Night), is included in the Basel Museum für Gegenwartskunst.
In Step Over the Threshold, Baselitz conflates traditional iconography of The Passion and The Pietà. The figures inversed, Christ appears crowned with thorns, holding a tiny female form. In a move that echoed his recent experiments carving large totemic figures in wood, the sculptural quality of the cradled figure appears almost wooden in its tautness. Just as his inverted motifs were aimed at separating a subject from its associations, here form, style, and colour have been used to shatter conventional assumptions the reverence placed on religious subjects. Having painted upside down since 1969, a practice which the artist described as giving him the freedom to concentrate on purely painterly problems, here Baselitz literally upturns their depictions, simultaneously referencing and subsuming the figures to the point of an incidental motif of the picture. As the artist has articulated, 'what art really comes down to is imagery rather than content or religious fervour or things of that thing of that kind. It is a question of cogency of the pictorial construction' (G. Baselitz, interview with D. Koepplin, D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interview, London 2010, p. 131).
On the threshold of figurative and abstraction, in the religiously-themed paintings from 1985 Baselitz employed colour and brushstroke in a chiseled and non-gestural manner, as if carving his abstract forms from pure, radiant colour. Rendered in a vibrant otherworldly palette of vermillion, cadmium yellow and vivid green against a curtain of blackness, Baselitz's saturated brush strokes of strident colours seem deliberately at odds with the traditional reverence of their subjectmatter.
Extending beyond the conventions of religious painting, Baselitz's re-invoking of privileged subject-matter with such irreverence and originality that it seems almost as if the viewer were witnessing the event for the very first time. 'When I make my paintings' Baselitz has said of such works, 'I begin to do things as if I were the first, the only one, as if none of these examples (of what other artists had done before) existed' (G. Baselitz, quoted in H. Geldzahler, 'Georg Baselitz' in Interview, April 1983, p. 83). Through the inversion of the subject-matter and through its colour and dynamic sense of hand-crafted surface, crosses the threshold between sacred and profane.