Artist and Musician Biographies

ANSELM KIEFER

Here is a clip from the BBC Imagine film in which Anself Kiefer works on a canvas. He also discusses his inner motivations for working on a painting the way he does.

Anselm Kiefer belongs to the group of artists known as the Neo-expressionists because of his use of familiar images to express his concerns and beliefs in a narrative fashion. Kiefer was born in 1945 in Donaueschingen, Germany and raised in towns in the Black Forest region near the east bank of the Rhine. In 1966, he left his law studies at the University of Freiburg to study at art academies in Freiburg, Karlsruhe, and Dusseldorf. In the early 1970s, he studied informally with Joseph Beuys when Beuys occasionally visited the Dusseldorf Academy.

Kiefer's work was first exhibited in 1969 and since then he has had many gallery and museum shows in Europe and America. From 1969 until 1980, Kiefer's work focused very strongly on German history and tradition, with particular emphasis on the tragedy of World War II and the role of Nazism in that conflict. His work also examines the German sense of identity and nationhood, as well as his role as an artist in society. He painted a series of burnt, German landscapes to begin the process of healing from what happened in their history. The content of the imagery took precedence over the physical surface in his early paintings.

As Kiefer delved deeper into his subject matter, he borrowed the idea of incorporating unusual, everyday materials into his art from Joseph Beuys's example. The surface of the painting began to take on a more important role as he embedded straw, lead, clay and ashes into the canvas. The choice of materials strengthened his paintings by taking them to a new level almost near the edge of performance art. The painting evoked a response out of the viewer by toying with their perceptions from the associations drawn by the various objects.

Kiefer is interested in the interplay of mythology and history. He believes that his role as an artist is to help and even transform society through the interpretation made from his art making. The image of an artist's palette appears in several of his paintings including his painting, "Dem Unbekannten Maler" (1983), which depicts the palette raised high as if it were a weapon. It can be interpreted as the artist's struggle with his association to his history. In Kiefer's work, the artist's palette is often a symbol for salvation, as art becomes a substitute for religion.

Kiefer also makes reference to alchemy and German folklore in his paintings to help alleviate some of the pain that the Germans felt after WW II. Alchemists had the belief that lead could be turned into the more valuable metal, gold. In the painting, "The Milky Way" (1985-87), the burnt landscape gives an impression of the destruction after the war, hungry for renewal. A white slash of paint emerges in the foreground surrounded by a golden light pierced by the tip of a three-dimensional lead funnel. The lead funnel represents alchemy, transforming the burnt landscape into a renewed field of a white, uncontaminated canvas. Fire itself becomes a symbol for the artistic process in the paintings.

The straw embedded in many of the paintings makes reference to the old German legend of Rumpelstiltskin who spun straw into gold. Again, the material is transformed into something of better quality. In these paintings, as well as others, words as well as entire lines from literature, often referring to the holocaust or German mythology, are written on the painting.

Kiefer also worked in three dimensions to communicate the weight of history through his lead books, each weighing 300 kilos His sculpture, "The High Priestess" (1986-1989) consists of 200 lead books arranged on two steel book shelves which are leaned against each other, but separated by a panel of heavy glass. The books symbolize the weight of history's past through their stored knowledge, fantasy, and folklore, and the books are too heavy for a single person to lift. This of course implies that the weight of history, at least for him, is so great that no one person can carry, or perhaps bear, the burden of that weight or guilt.

Kiefer lived in Hornbach in the Oden Forest in the Rhineland-Palatinate region until 1992. Since then, he has resided in southern France. He continues to produce artwork. In a recent landscape, "Bohemia Lies by the Sea," 1996 he continues his hope and search for utopia. The pink-orange poppies framing the path, which leads into the high horizon, represent both military veterans and dreams. The burnt landscapes of Germany have been replaced by the blooming fields. Perhaps the painting depicts Kiefer's proximity to the healing of his past.

Page author: L.C.