Anselm Kiefer is a unique artist in his central themes and style. His life leading up to his high status of an artist is nothing but unique as well. Although, much of his background is life in obscurity based on his preference of being paraphrased rather that quoted, having few interviews, and having no pictures. However, there is still plentiful amounts information about his life entering his art career. There is much information about Kiefer’s progression in the creation of his paintings and sculptures and his rise to become a well recognized artist.
Kiefer was born in Donaueschingen, southern Germany, on March 8, 1945. The date is close to when Third Reich collapsed. He grew up in a generation of Germans that questioned the actions of their parents. By growing up in this particular generation, influenced the paintings he created. Anselm created his paintings to allow himself to vent his guilt and “question Nazism and try to understand how their parents let this happen.” (Jordan, Courtney 2nd paragraph)
He first began studying art in the 1970’s with another artist named Joseph Beuys. Although, Beuys was not his teacher he “acknowledges the spiritual influence of the older artist.” (Colpitt, Frances 3rd paragraph) In the 1980’s he moved to Germany’s Oden Forest and owned a school house where most of his earlier works were created. His work first focused on mythical and historic German figures. He soon started to explore the taboo topic of the Third Reich. This focus on post-war Germany separated Kiefer from all other painters in the 1980’s. His expressive but controversial images made viewers decided if his images are “bombast or humble desire that leads him to explore and embrace the universe in paintings and sculpture...” (Paul, Steve 2nd paragraph) One powerful set of paintings that focused on post-war Germany was centered around the poem “Death Fuge” by Paul Celan. Celan was a victim of the Holocaust and the only member of his family that survived. Before he took his own life, he created the poem which had the characters Margarete and Shulamite. These two characters appeared in Kiefer images. In his images he characterizes the two characters to represent Germany and its changes during the war. By going into the taboo subject, he separated himself from other artist during the 1980’s. Unlike other artists he combined history and literature to his art. His style made him well known and different from other artists.
As time went on, he focused less on reflecting on post-war Germany. More recently, he focuses more on mystics, religion, and alchemy. However, his creations are still unique. Kiefer uses a different array of materials and techniques to create his paintings. He uses materials like “sunflowers, branches, pieces of cloth, terra cotta pottery, plaster, dried mud and lead objects often attached to thick layers of paint,” (Riding, Alan 2nd paragraph) to create his images. Each of his materials also has a specific deeper meaning in it as well. For example, the use of wheat represent how things can be so easily burned down and how a new generation of wheat can grow right over it. He often traveled and took pieces of nature with him back home where he is able to store materials for later use.
Anslem Kiefer uses unique materials and deep and saddening subjects to show life moves quickly but viewers cannot forget the past. Beside the use of ordinary paints, Kiefer uses items like sunflowers, wheat, dirt, and lead to create his art like the “Margarete.” Each material he uses is unique and has a deeper meaning in it like the use of wheat and lead. Kiefer also focuses on certain subjects as well. He focuses religion, the holocaust, and the development of the new generation. In each of Kiefer’s images deep messages are instilled in it for people to reflect and learn lessons from.
Through the use of wheat, contrast of colors, and a sensitive subject, Anslem Kiefer is able to deliver his message to the viewers of his view on how times passes quickly and how a new generation must learn from the past. For example, his set of images called “Your Golden Hair, Margarete” all uses similar themes to pass the message along. The images based on the poem “Death Fugue” by the Romanian poet Paul Celan the viewers can see how the image represents the ever moving world and its new generation.
Margarete is one out of a set of images based on the poem “Death Fugue” by Paul Celan. Paul Celan was a victim of the Holocaust and the only member of his family that survived. He created the poem “Death Fugue” before committing suicide. Margarete and Shulamite was metaphoric protagonist in his poem, as well as Kiefer’s set of images released in 1981. Kiefer focused on the two characters and characterizes them and their two contrasting natures in his work. The golden wheat represents the golden hair and her Aryan background. Shulamite was portrayed by her black paint for her black hair and Jewish background. The painting Maragarete was created that depicted stems of wheat sticking out of the black ground beneath. The golden wheat stands up tall and reaching up to the blue sky, however with their tips on fire. The image has a very dark tone to it. The blue representing the sky is washed and mixed with grey. The ground is burnt and destroyed with patches of black and white. It looks like ashes of burnt plants. The wheat stands out from the rest of the image with its bright color and lit tips. However the wheat looks withered as well. Lastly, the name, “Margarete” written right in the middle of the painting. The combination of the colors and the themes make his image mournful and full of deeper messages about the history of the Holocuast.
The use of wheat catches the eyes of people as it has a deep meaning as well as being different from other images at the time. The materials Kiefer uses has a certain meaning to him. Wheat has a “potential to be burnt and turn into ash, it not only implied a landscape scarred and formed by history, war and fire, but also the possibility of alchemical transformation.” (Hubbard, Sue 4th paragraph) Wheat can easily linked with people. Wheat is easily burned and then new wheat is grown in its place. Similar to humans, people eventually die, but a new generation will grow over the ashes of the past. Ashes can be linked to ruins of human society as well. To Kiefer “a ruin is not a catastrophe. It is the moment when things can start again.” (Riding, Alan 3rd paragraph) It also shows how a new generation can easily forget its past because of how quickly time changes things. The ashes of the dead wheat give nutrients and help the new generation grow, however as time passes the wheat grows and covers the ashes from sight. In the end, “transforming raw materials into art and transforming raw history of Germany into a mythology of redemption and rebirth,” (Johnson, Ken 4th paragraph) was the goal of Kiefer’s image. Combining the use of wheat and his knowledge of history, he is able to send a strong message about the continuing growth of a new generation.
The colors used in the image were carefully picked out to give the meaning of the image in the most appropriate way possible. The contrast between the blue, gold, black, grey, and white allows the image to have this very mournful look. Most importantly, the black and gold of the wheat has a much deeper meaning to the history of the Holocaust. The use of the washed toned down blue with mixes of white and grey allows the image to look damaged and old. The sky does not look clear, but messy and blotchy. The use of black and white to represent the ashes also follows the sloppy look. The wheat also is dried and withered. However, the use of black and gold has a certain harmony in the image. Germany destroyed its harmony by separating the Aryans from the Jewish. Kiefer tries to bring it back together “By pairing these two women in paint, he attempts a restoration of wholeness.” (Hubbard, Sue 3rd paragraph) By placing the black and gold that represent Shulamite and Maragarete together, the gap in the German population is brought together. It also shows how the wheat and ashes are all the same. Once burned the wheat will turn to ash, and once decomposed the ashes will be use for nutrients for the new generation of wheat. The combination of colors gives a saddening image, but under the gloomy colors there is a message for the new generation to see people as equals.
While it might be difficult to see the influence of the Holocaust in the painting as it is “not always readily open to interpretation, theses paintings too, resist it,” (Glueck, Grace last paragraph) but the use of the devastating event gives a strong message and reaches out to many people. By associating the images with the events of the Holocaust there has been controversy of the over all necessity of it. People believe that using the subject was a stunt and named him “as a commercially motivated purveyor of a bombastic nationalistic style.” (Colpitt, Frances Page 1) However, the use of his history was necessary to show the importance of remembering the pass and preserving it for the new and quickly growing generation. His paintings allowed people involved with the event to release their guilt, and a new generation to reflect on the devastation. Without the history, his images would be uninspired and lack meaning and depth.
“Margarete” is a prime example of how his images contain extensive layers of meanings. His unconventional use of wheat gave focus to the image a comprehensible link of the Aryan people. While the use of dull colors gives the image a serious and saddening tone while connecting it physical items and history. Lastly, the use of the Holocaust releases multiple meanings and emotions connected with its events. With the each individual part to “Maragarete” the message would not make the same impact and importance.
Similar to “Maragrete” the images from the The Aldrich exhibition, "Anselm Kiefer: Velimir Chlebnikov” has similar themes and techniques. The images in the exhibition do not have a name, but many of the paintings depict a seascape with low-key colors. Many of the images depicts battle taken over seas represented by one ore more rusted U-boats. Through the use of colors and lead Kiefer is able the violence of war and its affects.
In the Aldrich exhibition, thirty images by Anselm Kiefer are displayed. One specific image displays a U-boat grounded on the shoreline. Similar to Kiefer’s other works; the image is bleak and dark. Kiefer uses light browns, orange, metallic blue, grays, along with whites to give a lifeless and depressing image. The ground bland and has no life growing on it. It looks completely barren, flat, and dry, even if it is close to the water. The water looks metallic and cold. The use of metallic blues and grays makes it look uninviting. Meanwhile the whites used in the water gives the water a violent look. The waves look rough and unpleasant. The sky as well, is dark and depressing. There seem to be no sunlight, clouds, or birds; the sky is a dismal grey and barren sky. Lastly, the U-boat itself looks broken, beaten, and disabled. Beside the fact that it is stranded on a shore, it is left to endure crashing waves of the violent sea. Half of the U-boat is rusted and seems dead. The images are “restless, implacable, seascapes, most bearing an attached lead model of a disabled warship…,” (Glueck, Grace 4th paragraph) that clearly represents the images of a battle at sea.
Through the use of colors, Kiefer is able to show the unattractiveness of war. Compared to the beaches people dream about going on vacation, the painting displays a dismal shore that looks completely lifeless. To create his disheartening images, Kiefer uses “a blending of paint other materials like sand, rust dirt, and straw…,” (Glueck, Grace 8th paragraph) the combination of his low-key color paints with the lifeless dirt and rust gives the image a musty look. The use of a monotone brown to represent the earth shows that it is barren and lifeless. The saddening grays for the sky are bleak and have no trace of sunlight. The water does not display a clear blue ocean. Instead, Kiefer paints a polluted ocean by mixing in metallic grays, blues, oranges, and whites. Kiefer might ever “further toughened by deliberate exposure to weather.” (Glueck, Grace 8th paragraph) The wear and tear adds to the image exceptionally well. Everything in the image looks like it has been worn out by time and the elements. The image shows how straining war is on the people and the enviorment. The U-boat symbolizes wars and the lifeless environment displays the affects of it.
Lead has a strong meaning to Kiefer and it is a unique choice to represent the U-boat in the image. Lead is unique in the fact that it has a strong connection with alchemy. Lead was sought to be the oldest metal in alchemy. To Kiefer an “artist was an alchemist, converting raw materials such as paint and canvases into objects of great profundity.” (Anselm Kiefer 10th paragraph) With lead’s special role in alchemy, lead became an important material to Kiefer. He began to use lead in the 1980’s. Kiefer often created images centered with lead or even whole sculptures with lead. Lead is also especially fitting for his collection of U-boat images because of its ability blocking “radiation, yet poisonous itself.” (Temin, Christine 3rd paragraph) It is fitting because of the role of the U-boat during World War II. U-boat was used to make sneak attacks and create naval blockades. While the U-boat was used in attacks, in the end, the purpose was to protect Germany by giving it the advantage in war. However, the very same advantage was killing and hurting other humans. This also creates the barren look of the painting. The U-boat is surrounded by a lifeless seascape to represent its destruction to life around it. Similar to lead’s ability to protect, it can also hurt people. While lead is an exceptionally important part of the images, other items like “loops of barbed wire, dried sunflowers, twine, [and] gloves,” (Genocchio, Benjamin 9th paragraph) were used in many of his images on display. The use of lead gives a unique twist on his images.
The colors and materials Kiefer uses gives viewers a message by its soulful look. His lead gives war instruments a deeper meaning, as lead can be much like war it self. The use of going to war, using weapons, and lead is that it can damage the user as well at its victim. His worn down and dark colors allows the painting to display stress on both the Germans using the U-boat, as well as Germany itself, through the years of war. The images bring to memory of the events that occurred during World War II. Kiefer wanted to express the negative affects of constant combat by showing its end result.
Finally, the final image “Markische Heide” is a painting that displays dirt path in an area that is presumably Märkische Heide in Germany. This image is particularly different because of the color tones used in the paintings. By using contrasts of colors, the perspective, and the image’s location, he displays a seemingly endless road that can be associated with life.
“Markische Heide” is a rather unique image compared to his other images more closely associated with the Holocaust and its affects. The image itself displays a beaten down dirt path that starts right in front of the middle of the painting and reaches out to the horizon line. On the sides of the road in the front of the painting are low-key-color tones representing grass and wheat. On the right side, the grass seems short and flat with some random trees sticking out. On the left side, looks overgrown with wheat. While near the horizon line the grasslands and sky seems to mesh together. The grasslands in the back and the sky seem to almost come together and it is difficult to separate the two. The colors of the road, sky, and the grasslands in the back of the image are rather bright and hopeful for a painting that Kiefer created. With the use of whites, bright yellows, and light blues, the image has a more positive and lighthearted tone. At the horizon line, the land and sky seamlessly come together. It is hard to see where the sky begins and where the grasslands end. Lastly, the words “Markische Heide” is written right in the middle of the canvas, referencing to a small area in Northeastern Germany.
The contrast in colors in “Markische Heide” gives the image many different ways the image can be interpreted. The contrast in color of the grass, wheat, road, and the sky gives the image a hopeful look and a more light-hearted message compared to his other images. In the painting, the road and sky clearly stand out from the rest of the image. Compared to the dark yellows, golds, and blacks of the grass and wheat in the front of the image, the road and sky looks bright with the use of whites, light yellows, and light blues. The path seems like a road that leads to a much brighter future and the correct path to leave the depressing surroundings. The lightly colored path seems to reach out the sky, almost like reaching toward heaven. Looking at this image points out with “his paintings and installation to the potential of humanity for creation, destruction, and renewal.” (Craig, Yvonne 1st paragraph) Even if people are surrounded by a disheartening surrounding, it is important to keep moving and find the renewal of life. Using the light colors to bring out the sky and road from the dark surrounding gives the message of a more hopeful surrounding down the road. The viewers can see how people need to keep moving on their path to find a brighter future later on in life.
The perspective in which the image is drawn gives a view of the path a certain meaning. By viewing it from the front into the horizon, the path almost seems endless as it reaches towards the sky. Meanwhile, the viewer cannot miss the depressing and dark toned immediate image of the grasslands in front of them. The viewers also view the image from Markische Heide, Germany. The image could depict “the land where historic events might have occurred,” (Hubbard, Sue 2nd paragraph) during World War II in Germany. The land surrounding the front of road represents the past that people should not nor can forget. Similar to “Maragarete,” Kiefer once again brings gold and black together; bringing unity to the two part of Germany. The depressing area at the beginning of the path will still be there no matter how far the viewer’s eyes follow the path to brighter grasslands in the back. By look at the path from the angle that Kiefer has given the viewers, the viewer cannot ignore the dark present in front of them; meanwhile they can see the more hopeful future that seems to leads to the sky. Similar to many of his other images, “Markische Heide” reminds the viewers that they need to remember the pass, even the depressing part, as people continue move on down life.
The image’s location at Markische Heide gives deeper meaning to the image. By using Markische Heide which is located in Germany, there are connections to World War II. Markische Heide can be represent as Germany as a whole. The image of a beaten down dirt path with a depressing emptiness surrounding, might have been a common idea during the war. The image of the empty land represents Germany’s “upheavals of the war torn past.” (Hubbard, Sue 6th paragraph) The image can be a reflection of some of Kiefer’s memories. The path is an escape from Germany and its past; however like how a viewer cannot look away from the dark toned grasslands in the front of the image, people cannot forget the affects of Holocaust to Germany.
People involved in the war cannot for the events that happened in the Holocaust and other events. It is possible that Markische Heide is an empty area that is soon changing and becoming a new settlement. The image “Markische Heide” represents the need to move on from the miserable past to a much brighter future. However, people cannot simply forget the past. New generations will move to the brighter future; however this painting is a reminder to remember and reflect back on the Holocaust.
Throughout Kiefer’s art career, he has challenged the limits on art to deliver powerful messages to the public. By being the next generation to be after the Holocaust, they had the duty of reflecting and comprehending the all the horrific events. As time passes on however, the ruins of the generation before them becomes covered and forgotten. The image “Maragarete,” displays how generations of people, who are represented by wheat and ashes, are all the same and quickly grown over each other. The lead U-boats in Kiefer’s images shows the affects of war, as it destroys everything in the process of defending. “Markische Heide” allows the viewer to see a bright future however, never be able to miss the gloomy area in the front of the image. In his images he is able to remind everyone that the past cannot be forgotten even with the quickly changing generation. With the quickly growing generation, it is even more important that they cannot forget so events like the Holocaust should never happen again.