Anselm Kiefer at The RA (T.O.P.)

I am very late in posting this but me and my group attended a few exhibitions on 27th November that we could reference for our T.O.P presentations, I shall write a post on each exhibition but by far, my favourite was the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the R.A. which is what I will begin with first , mainly because it was the one I responded to most.

Initially, I’d never heard of Anselm Kiefer neither had I researched his practice and I kept it this way because I’d rather form an opinion by viewing the art of the artist first, but I had no idea what to expect.

Upon first glance, I realised that Kiefer was an exceptional artist who was keen to explore the world, what it was about and that each creation was fuelled by various techniques and driven by concepts regarding the makings and substance of the universe.  The concepts and subject matters he delves into are something we have in common, as I am currently looking into history and which is something Kiefer started with, only he was more concerned with the loss of these memories, especially as he was born into a time where Germany was pure rubble and recovering from the aftermath of Weimar Germany.

Heroic Symbol V – Anselm Kiefer

He was also born during a year that the Nazi salute and uniform were made illegal and the happenings were not taught during his years of schooling. Yet as you can see, in the painting above Kiefer decided to address these taboos which led to controversy and rejection from most of his art tutors. Regarding German mythology, I found a great quote in an article via The Guardian:

‘Throughout the 1970s Kiefer devoted himself to Germanic myths. He explored the forests where early German tribes had defeated Roman legions and which were an “infinite vessel of mystery, of fairytales, of childhood memories”.’

I genuinely believe this is one of the main reasons why I am working with Greek mythology, it’s magical and supernatural nature excites me and takes me back to my childhood years when I wanted to be something ridiculous like Wonder Woman or Hermione Granger from Harry Potter just because she could whack out a few spells. It’s those dreams and fantasies of having an innate power that makes the women of Greek Mythology interesting to me, they’re portrayed as being strong and powerful yet divine. But there is also the historical issue of the loss of traditional arts and crafts, in which I recently looked at weaving during my last theory essay, this is pretty much becoming a lost craft but something one that was mainly associated with the work of women.

Kiefer than moved onto concerns of the cyclic nature of existence., raising questions on relationships between life and death/destruction and reconstruction. These theoretical issues were also explored through the exploration of philosophy and cosmology – something I also explored before turning to mythology. I have been fascinated by the life cycles of stars and spent most of my foundation year reading up on the birth and death of stars and how the remaining substances of exploded stars are something that we are all made of, hence the quote by Carl Sagan:

‘We are all made of star dust.’

… is one I truly adore. Kiefer has studied how cosmologists come to study constellations, consciously making the most captivating lead surfaces scattered with diamonds, of course, emulating constellations.

The Renowned Orders of the Night by Anselm Kiefer

Here, you can see a body, not sure whether the figure is lifeless but one thing for sure is that he is lying lonely under a sky scattered with stars. My interpretation of Kiefer’s star works is that he looks into not only the relationship between how everything is interconnected, how star and human life cycles coincide but also a wondering or questioning about what occurs beyond existence. The greater questions such as ‘When we die, will we go to heaven? What will become of our bodies, both physically and spiritually? Is there even such thing a thing as heaven?’ Questions I often asked myself whilst reading into cosmology.

A very strong key theme running through Kiefer’s practice is nature, he not only painted sunflowers in his paintings a lot, but they have been richly used in his painting and sculptures along with lots of other raw materials. The use of sunflowers have multiple interpretations, they follow the sun and are rejuvenated by it in the way humans are, yet when they die their buds are filled with ashy seeds – potential life.

“When I look at ripe, heavy sunflowers, bending to the ground with blackened seeds… I see firmament and the stars.”

Ash Flower – Anselm Kiefer

Raw materials such a straw, rocks, flowers, clay, ash, dust and most importantly, lead are essential in the process of making Kiefer’s vast scale works – they emulate the raw elements of the earth. For example, lead:

‘Incorporating materials such as concrete, straw, ash and shellac, Kiefer’s works often decay with age, and the artist embraces this loss of control. Embodying this mutability is lead, which alchemists once believed could be turned into gold. Books – often with wings – have been a repeated motif since the late 1960s and represent, for Kiefer, important repositories of learning, religion, culture. Many of these book sculptures are made of lead, which Kiefer first used to mend his plumbing in the 1970s. He has subsequently described it as “the only material heavy enough to carry the weight of human history”.’ (Taken from the RA website).

Kiefer also puts his works in electrolyte baths, or paints layer upon layer then hacks them off and layers on more paint or materials, this is all in the name of destruction and reconstruction – but drawing on alchemical notions. I know I have spent a lot of time analysing his works but, I believe that I’m working with similar ideas, like how growth towards something is evident in my rope drawings, how they appear to be organic but also how the drawings of frayed rope seem to suggest a form of breaking or deconstruction, with themes regarding the cyclic nature of life and time at hand.

There is the chaotic element which goes along with destruction that I feel I must touch upon, I feel like my drawings remind me of tornado’s. They are quite robust and I’d like theme’s of disaster and renovation to be introduced at some point because I am pretty fascinated by how much destruction Mother Nature can cause as opposed to focusing on beauty and growth. I find destruction and chaos to be equally as beautiful (as crazy as it sounds).  At the moment they are just drawings but I do feel that I’ll be working on a similar scale to Kiefer at some  point.

Lastly, I watched this pretty inspirational documentary on Anselm Kiefer ( as recommended by Vicky) and it was amazing, it showed a lead up to the RA exhibition we just visited which was great!

Overall, this was truly captivating exhibition that left me both overwhelmed and captivated by the beauty and depth of conceptual thinking, and art itself had evoked an emotional side in me which is something I hadn’t experienced before. Stunning.

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