Flipper is a German term for the game of pinball, which was Palermo’s favorite pastime at his local café. The right–hand panel of this diptych features the same red, white, and blue pattern that appeared on the sides of the pinball machine he used there. In the left panel the elimination of the blue grid leaves the red squares floating unanchored on the white ground, creating formal tension in the composition.
Gallery label from Geo/Metric: Prints and Drawings from the Collection, June 11- August 18, 2008.
The life and art of Blinky Palermo, described as the "James Dean of the German art scene," remain enigmatic even to those who knew him well. Born Peter Schwarze, he became Peter Heisterkamp after being adopted as an infant. In 1963 he began attending art classes in Düsseldorf taught by the charismatic performance artist and sculptor Joseph Beuys, who became the artist's friend. By all accounts, Palermo spent much of his life in a constant state of crisis and despair about both his work and his identity. It was for this reason that he readily adopted the pseudonym Blinky Palermo in 1964 after a classmate noticed his resemblance to the American boxing promoter and petty gangster of the same name.
During his short career (he died at the age of thirty-four), Palermo produced a diverse body of work that seems to defy categorization, but displays affinities with Constructivist, Minimalist, and Conceptual art. He began making prints in 1966, eventually completing about forty editions. Flipper was derived from his 1965 painting, also called Flipper, the German term for the game of pinball. Inspired by Palermo's favorite game at a local café, Flipper features the same red, white, and blue pattern that appeared on the sides of that pinball machine. The right-hand panel of the diptych reproduces the composition of the painting, while the left simply removes the blue grid, an easy step in the screenprint process. The result is a shift in relationships that leaves the red squares floating, unanchored on the white ground. Originally the work was intended to be two separate prints with both bearing the artist's signature, but Palermo decided to make it a diptych once he saw the compelling tension created when the prints were hung side by side on a wall.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 196.