Paris is etched in my memory together with the lasting impression it left on me and my work.
On 24 February 2022 Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine, leaving the world in a state of shock. I found that here the powerful works of Anselm Kiefer were so relevant.
The second exhibition that had a great impact on me was that of Anselm Kiefer entitled “Hommage á un Poète” at the Thaddeus Ropac Gallery in the Pantin, Paris. This powerful exhibition literally stopped us in our tracks. The exhibition was dedicated to Paul Célan, Ingeborg Bachmann, Ossip Mandelstam and August Graf von Platen. It was especially Paul Cèlan’s poetry that had a profound influence on Kiefer. These poet’s works were statements about the devastating human consequences of war. Ukrainian-born Paul Cèlan was a survivor of the holocaust; both his parents were murdered by the Nazis. Cèlan’s life and poetry were moulded around this horrific background to such an extent that he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Seine.
Kiefer’s aim in creating these works is to remind and warn Germany and the rest of the world of the horrors of war and the lasting wounds it causes humanity. So why does Kiefer use poetry as the inspiration for his works? In a statement in 2021 Kiefer said of his work that for him “poetry is the only reality. Everything else is an illusion.” Indeed, Kiefer thought of becoming a writer himself. He saw poetry as buoys in the sea “you swim from one to the other … without them you are without direction, lost”. In his paintings there are mostly some lines of these so-called “buoys” written, his paintings are the visual expression moulded around the written phrases. These ideas merge into impasto paint onto vast canvasses. Kiefer uses a variety of materials oil and acrylic paint, emulsions, shellack, gold leaf and even straw and lead which merge and mutate in an alchemical process on his canvasses. Most often these materials refer directly to the subject matter of the painting.
The dark and tragic content of these works do not subtract from their beauty. They are the expression of the artist’s deepest emotions which he shares with his beholder. We are literally drawn into the alchemy and magic of Kiefer’s work.
O Halme der Nacht (Stalks of the Night) - a poem by Paul Cèlan
“From heart and brain
Sprout the stalks of night.
And a word, by scythes
Bend them into life.”
Anselm Kiefer "O Halme der Nacht"
For Kiefer a work of art is never complete, taking years to evolve, constituting a life cycle for the artist and the beholder. In this particular work Kiefer incorporates even straw and gold leaf giving the work a tactile reality.
The influence of Kiefer on my work is visible not only in subject matter, but in the paint application. The trigger for the two images of my work illustrated below was, of course, the war in Ukraine.