Klaus Wolf Knoebel, who was born in 1940 in Dessau and grew up near Dresden, studied in Josef Beuys’s class from 1965 to 1971. He had begun as an apprenticed window dresser before he, together with his friend Rainer Giese (1942-74), began his studies at the Werkkunstschule in Darmstadt where instruction was in line with the classical principles of the Bauhaus, namely the synthesis of art, craftsmanship and industrial production. As an expression of their friendship and solidarity, Knoebel and Giese took on the name Imi & Imi – onomatopoeia similar to the verbal fabrications of Dadaism. The motive behind the two Imis’ decision to transfer to Düsseldorf was the spectacular newspaper report on Beuys’s appearance at the Technical University in Aachen for the Festival of New Art on 20 July 1964.
The newspaper photos of Beuys made him a symbol for everything shocking and provocative, an expression of a social mood of upheaval, which met their own anti-authoritarian standpoint halfway.
He was quite different from the people of his generation. We only knew those who were authoritarian and rigid; he was, despite his age, open, rebellious, truly insubordinate and fresh, questioned things that others of his generation accepted wordlessly. His art was not essential; it hadn’t touched me yet. We hadn’t yet got that far.
In retrospect, Knoebel describes leaving Darmstadt in tandem with his friend as an important stabilising factor, since neither Rainer Giese nor he would have had the courage to take up their studies with Beuys on their own: ‘Imi and I supported each other in the mutual decision to go to Düsseldorf. We wouldn’t have gone it alone. At the time we really didn’t have the courage to go into fine art… We had in fact decided on a practical profession.’
Even though they had signed up for Walter Breker’s class in commercial art for the first two semesters, like many Academy students they often hung around Beuys’s class. When the two did finally apply to be admitted to his class, Beuys assented without demanding they first show him a portfolio. Since they feared their work would not be able to stand up to Beuys’s demands nor to the criticism of their fellow students, they hesitated: ‘We couldn’t even draw; Imi only drew dots and I lines.’ On the basis of the instruction they had at the Applied Arts School in Darmstadt, above all on the basis of Hanns Hofmann-Lederer’s preliminary course that was Bauhaus-oriented, Knoebel experimented with abstract, formal and contrasting relations, orderly autonomous configurations and serial depictions.