Sunday, 9 November 2014

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition at Royal Academy

I really "get" this artist.  Some of his ideas about the cosmos and nature, life, death and renewal, chime with my own.  The scale of his work is breath-taking, quite literally.  One of the features of his work is its unpretentious honesty.  It is always seeking to explore elemental truths about the basic "stuff" of life and how it resonates within a vast spectrum of human history, legend, experience, yearnings and tragedies.  It somehow opens up the core of things to the spectator, and that is his strength.  Technically, the work is quite beautiful particularly some of his later work produced for the exhibition.  The texture helps to explore depth of meaning, and the choice of the materials  and mediums is exciting and tactile.

I left the gallery having gained an insight into full reach of his ideas, an infinite questioning of what is.  There is mention of a couple of things in the catalogue of Kiefer's work that touched me, in particular a quote about the child being able to put her hand over the viper's den, which was a quote from Revelations after the new heaven and earth had been formed, following the destruction of the old heaven and earth.  It echoes the optimism that is sought in Kiefer's work and alludes to the tragedy of his own time and country after the terrible events of the last war.  The cleansing that he pursues not just for himself but for his country is linked to this idea.   On the infinite scale of the universe the other quote was the one that says that "in the beginning is the end and in the end is the beginning"¹. There is something remarkably optimistic and profound about this statement too. It is symbolic of the Ouroboros, which is a symbol of the Alchemist, one of Kiefer's main pre-occupations.
The symbol denotes wholeness and infinity, as well as the idea of something constantly recreating itself, in a cyclical way. Carl Jung apparently interpreted the Ouroboros as an archetypal significance to the human psyche, representing the "dawn state" of mankind as well as the individual child. All of these ideas are reflected in Kiefer's work.

Kiefer himself says "When I use objects and substances such as straw and lead I distil from their spirit...I discover the spirit that is within these substances.  I upheave it and display it"².
I think this is exactly what Kiefer does, and for this reason it is possible to re-visit his work and sense different things because his paintings work on so many different levels to reveal that "spirit".  It is interestingthat he uses the word "spirit" because his work echoes earlier Successionist painters who fell into the Symbolist style.  His subject matter is dark and esoteric, and he paints woodlands invoking ancient myth and legend.

I feel inspired to grapple with some of the techniques that Kiefer uses to express my own work, but realize I could never achieve the same poignant resolve.

Reference: Ansem Kiefer  by Kathleen Soriano, Christian Weikop and Richard Davey,  published by Royal Academy of Arts on the occasion of the exhibition Anselm Keifer, 27 September - 14 December 2014
¹ p49, Chapter Title of the above catalogue
² p. 21 of the above catalogue.

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