Friday, 6 September 2013

Research Kiefer and Tàpies

PAINTING 2: Mixed Media Part 1

Research – Anselm Kiefer (1945 - ) and Antoni Tàpies (1923 -  )

Both artist used multi media as exemplified in ‘Art Povera’ i.e. old disused items of no worth.  Kiefer used straw, ash, glass, clay, lead and Shellac as well as dried flowers and plants.  His work is sombre and his palette more or less limited to black white and occasionally another colour.  He works on a monumental scale having set up a huge 35 acre studio site in the South of France in Barjac where he spent huge amounts of money and time converting an old silk factory.  He later moved to Paris.  The subject matter of his work covers the history of Germany in particular the Third Reich and themes from the Nazi era.  He believes that art can purge the nation of its guilt with regard to the atrocities of the 1940s.

He had photographs of himself in different countries making the Nazi salute, which offended some people.  His work is by no means limited to this subject.  He has travelled fairly extensively both to the US, Middle East, as well as India and Japan to follow his interests in philosophy, literature, music, myth and history.  His interest in these subjects influence his work by way of paintings.  Through the poetry of Velimer Chlebnikov’s idea that history-changing sea battles occur every 317 years and Kiefer dedicated a series of paintings depicting crushed submarines impacted in paint with other media such as wire, string, plaster and so on.  It has to be remembered that the scuttling of the warship Bismarck was a critical event during the last world war and would have become embedded in the German zeitgeist of the period.

Kiefer was influenced by Joseph Beuys, Casper David Friedrich as well as Baselitz.  Kiefer’s work shows his interest in mystical symbolism, myth and folklore and he exploits runic motifs from legend and ancient history as well as other illustrative illusions.  As well as influencing his major works, Kiefer also created watercolours, woodcuts and photographs.  Because of his interest in German history and culture he became interested in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (one of Hitler’s favourite composers) using his music to inform the subject matter of his paintings.  Death is also never far from Kiefer’s subject matter and he painted work after being influenced by the Romanian Jewish Poet Paul Celan’s Death Fugue.

Political strife was often depicted and in 1985, a work was created which related to NATO’s building of a tactical Nuclear Missile site on German soil and it is interesting that he has acquired a de-commissioned reactor site near Koblenz.

There is nothing remotely pretty about Kiefer’s paintings, indeed they are confrontational on a large scale and very dark physically and emotionally with themes that expunge the conventional in favour of experimentation with technique and subject matter.

Antoni Tàpies was born in Barcelona in 1923 and was therefore aware of the problems of the then Catalonian region. His mother tongue is Catalan so he not only knew of the problems developing at the time of his youth, but also its culture.  He would have read of Ramon Llull, the Enlightened Doctor, as he was know, who created the language, was a master Alchemist, Scientist, Mystic and Artist, a person one can’t help thinking may have influenced the young Tàpies.  During his teenage years Catalonia had reverted to classical art but Tapies preferred ‘Germanism’ and like Kiefer admired Wagner, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and had read much Philosophy including Sartre and Zen Buddhism. He liked the climate of  Germany's forests with its mists and storms.  During 1939 Catalonia’s hopes of being independent were dashed as resistance faltered and Franco eventually seized power.  As a consequence the young Tàpies was traumatised and felt abandoned.  His grandmother had been an artist and gave him materials with which to work, but he became ill and he was hospitalized.  He was affected psychologically but painted many portraits of himself in the mirror of the facing wardrobe.  In 1945 he drew a self-portrait with pastels which remind me of Odilon Redon’s Noirs which were drawn in similar circumstances – that of loneliness, illness, and abandonment as a young person.

Tapies decided he would become an artist and very quickly mastered the techniques of representation not needing to attend art school.  However he then became influenced by Surrealism and Dadaism.  He wanted to find elements of reality and to do this he sought new content, materials and forms.  The artist for him was somewhere between the life of the magician and specialist in the real and unreal, presence and appearance.  He felt that a painting was something in its own right and not a representation of something else.  Like Kiefer he used different types of media including collage, but his work does not emulate “field” painting like Kiefer, but is composed of different elements often on a fairly minimal but textured background. His palette is similar to Kiefer’s black, white, browns, ochres, but his mark marking and texture is different. Nonetheless his primitive work has the ability to shock just as Kiefer’s work did.  Tàpies too resorted to mythological images and esoteric visions of fire, spectres and astral bodies.  He used: yarn, cardboard, burned wood, rings, rice, collage, silver foil and even toilet paper, the latter offending the church in one painting as it appeared too close to the cross.  It was Surrealism that introduced him to Freud and Jung and the importance of the sub-conscious motivations.  So although he moved on from Surrealism it acted as a spring board into a new way of thinking and working.  His paintings became more ethereal using oil reduced to a thin consistency and careful scratching out.  After an unsatisfactory visit to Paris where he made little contact with the “old school” of avant garde  artists, including Picasso,  he returned to Barcelona somewhat disillusioned where his political views caused him to look at geometrical abstraction but his attempts didn’t work so he scratched out,  and over-painted his canvases which led him to discover even greater possibilities.  Using different materials: soil, white marble dust, sand, hair, and tissue enabled him to explore texture in new ways and to reflect on a cosmic unity through each grain of sand, this brought him closer to his aspiration to find an ultimate reality that applied universally.
It was at this point that he became aware of his canvas as a “wall” not a “window” on to the world.  His work came to embody the idea of lost empires, cultures and histories replete with markings of time, graffiti, incisions, scratches, hieroglyphs, letters, numbers and so on.  Much as Kiefer had used runic symbols.  Tàpies regarded the graffiti of the civil war as extremely moving.  In his art, politics, sexuality and death become the walls. Tàpies, unlike Kiefer was not drawn to literature and poetry for his inspiration he wanted to somehow reach a ubiquitous truth, albeit from a Catalonian perspective.  He rejects the idea of political reconciliation and his work has a melancholy which leads him to see the insignificance of man preferring to absorb the ideas of Eastern philosophy and Modern science in relation to the relevance of time and materiality.

Tàpies felt reassured when he learned of Zen Buddhists who contemplated the wall for houurs on end.  The concept of a wall being twofold.  First the idea is that of nothingness that surrounds us, where men are condemnded to exist (or as Sartre would have said "condemned to be free"), the second ideas is that of the wall as being an inner state which excludes, desire, understanding or "non-knowledge" which subsequuently leads to enlightenment.  In Tàpies' later work he retuurns to drawing as a significant element in his work. 
It was interesting to look at the work of Atol Dodiya he is an artist from Bombay born in 1959 and his work reminds me of Tàpies because of the social/political spectres that must have influenced his life and therefore his painting, just as the Civil War affected Tàpies, interestingly he has been influenced by Joseph Beuys, Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, René Magritte and Gerhard Richter. Where he differs is in the exeucution of his work which embrace traditional painting techniques.  He uses the shuttered door, just as Tàpies did in his work Porta metal-lica i violi. But instead of remaining static, as the Tàpies painting, his shutters can be moved up and down to reveal or hide the painting.  Nonetheless it is reminiscent of the "wall" in Tàpies' work.  His subject matter too, is charged with drama, as in Mahalaxmi, where the hidden image behind the shutter is of three women who hanged themselves because of their unbearable poverty.  He uses a limited palette shades of black on an ochre ground. He also uses marble dust for texture. Just as Tàpies had been influenced by Surrealism, it is evident from Dodiya's work that he too has been influenced by Magritte in Dadagirl which was painted using oil and again marble dust (one of Tàpies' favoured mediums).

Kai Altoff born in Cologne in 1966.  He produces installations, photography,drawing and sculpture as well as his resin paintings. He is a modern musician as well as a visual artist. The works produced in 2001 use paper lacquer and varnish and are "Untitled" paintings which are abstract or figurative.  There is an overwhelming sense of masculine oppression in the work of his figurative paintings which use texture as well as tone. Egon Schiele and Sigmar Polke seem to have influenced his work which combines paint and visual texture in his work. Some of his work revives earlier 20th centuury social political subjects and I can help feeling he might be a latter day Kifer, because of his interests, but perhaps that is just becuase of reading about Kiefer for this research project. Altoff has exhibited in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Hamburg, Cologne and London.

I am very keen to utilize some of the techniques used by Tàpies.  I like the outward simplicity of his work which is saturated in meaning.  I find Kiefer's work a bit too oppressive, probably due to his palette, but his use of materials is certainly very interesting and inspirational as is his use of texure.    Both artists have made me feel less nervous of using more and varied materials.  Tàpies' subject matter is sometimes obscure and he is aware of this and described some of the meanings behind his Straw and Wood painting of 1969 in Youssef Ishaghpour's biography.  

I have already tried out some wood chip, string, earth,dried flowers and human hair in my painting below.  It is a sort of homage to Tàpies as it is based on a recent photograph  taken in the Catalonia area and emphasizes his idea of graffiti being something to be considered seriously, it also echoes his "wall" and has a symbolic + in the painting too. It incorporates collage and is acrylic on canvas.  I intend to do more paintings of these old and crumbling buildings which are invariably covered in graffiti, adopting similar techniques and developing ideas relating to colour and texture.

References: Wickipedia: Anselm Kiefer, Antoni Tàpies by Youssef Ishaghpour, Ediciones Polfgrafa, SA, 2006
Vitamin P, 2002 - 2008, Introduction:Barry Schwabsky

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