Depicting the horrors of The Holocaust

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German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer poses in front of his work. Photo: Rolf Haid/AFP/Getty Images. Creator: DPA | Credit: AFP/Getty Images

March 8, On This Day

This artist has a spiritual connection with his materials


German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer poses in front of his work. Photo: Rolf Haid/AFP/Getty Images. Creator: DPA | Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Born in Germany’s Black Forest just two months before the end of World War II (on March 8, 1945), Anselm Kiefer went on to become a prolific artist influenced deeply by the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as the spiritual concepts of Kabbalah. Kiefer very interestingly incorporates materials such as straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac into his works, and values a ‘spiritual connection’ with these materials, ‘extracting the spirit that already lives within them’. He also transforms them with acid baths and physical blows with sticks and axes, among other processes.

‘Grane’ by Anselm Kiefer. Woodcut with paint and collage on paper mounted on linin, Museum of Modern Art (New York City); wikimedia.org

His works are characterised by an unflinching willingness to confront his culture’s dark past, and unrealised potential, and often done on a large, confrontational scale well suited to the subjects. It is also characteristic of his work to find signatures and names of people of historical importance, legendary figures or historical places. All of these are encoded sigils through which Kiefer seeks to process the past; this has resulted in his work being linked with the movements New Symbolism and Neo–Expressionism.

Kiefer’s Velimir Chlebnikov, a series of 30 paintings devoted to the Russian philosopher who posited that war is inevitable, is on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Kiefer has lived and worked in France since 1992. Since 2008, he has lived and worked primarily in Paris. In 2018, he was awarded Austrian citizenship.

Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, emulsion, synthetic polymer paint, shellac on photodocument paper on linen canvas with lead construction by Anselm Kieffer, 1984-6, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

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