Penck was born in Dresden, Germany. In his early teens he took painting and drawing lessons with Jürgen Böttcher, known by the pseudonym Strawalde, and joined with him to form the renegade artists’ group Erste Phalanx Nedserd (de) (“Dresden” spelled backward). He later worked for a year as a trainee draftsman at the state advertising agency in Dresden. After failing to gain admission to the fine-arts academies in Dresden and East Berlin, Penck worked for several years as a stoker, a newspaper deliverer, a margarine packer and a night watchman.
Penck later studied together with a group of other neo-expressionist painters in Dresden. He became one of the foremost exponents of the new figuration alongside Jörg Immendorff, Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz. Under the East German communist regime, they were watched by the secret police and were considered dissidents. In the late 1970s they were included in shows in West Berlin and were seen as exponents of free speech in the East. Their work was shown by major museums and galleries in the West throughout the 1980s. They were included in a number of important shows including the famous Zeitgeist exhibition in the well-known Martin Gropius Bau museum and the important New Art show at the Tate in 1983.
Penck's sculptures, though less familiar, evoke the same primitive themes as his paintings and drawings. They use common everyday materials such as wood, bottles, cardboard boxes, tin cans, masking tape, tinfoil, and wire, and are crudely painted and assembled. Despite their anti-art aesthetic and the rough-and-ready quality of their construction, they have the same symbolic, archetypal anthropomorphic forms as his flat symbolic paintings. The paintings are influenced by Paul Klee's work and mix the flatness of Egyptian or Mayan writing with the crudity of the late black paintings by Jackson Pollock. The sculptures are often reminiscent of the stone heads of Easter Island and other Oceanic art.Wikipedia