Anselm Kiefer is one practitioner on my list of contemporary artists whose artwork I can always depend upon for visual stimulation, hence why I was so keen to see his latest exhibit at the White Cube in Hoxton. Relatively unknown to those who have yet to stray from mainstream consumption, the German national and French resident, has in fact showcased numerous solo shows across Europe, always to a standard and style distinctively his own. More than a review of ‘Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen’, I’m going to introduce you to the artist I’ve nearly written about many a time, and almost once paralleled to Turner and Rembrandt’s idiosyncratic painting technique discussed in ‘Visual Indigestion’ (December 2010.)
The exhibition of multimedia relief photographs (predominantly), sketchbooks and one epic relief painting, fills not only the main, but upstairs galleries.
So what is it about Anselm Kiefer that makes me so enthusiastic? The artist subtly but ambitiously combines interplay of techniques, exploitation of media, and a thoroughly ‘felt’ response.
The twenty-four large seascapes that make up ‘des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen’ in the main gallery of the Cube, are a melee of techniques ceased fire. With colours, and textures at hazy peace with one another. He heightens black and white photographs with splashes, drips, smudges and the most radical – electrolysis. This provides a stunning contrast between primitive patterns from nature and man-made experimentation. The latter, is enigmatic, especially in places where it appears even outside of the artist’s hands, highlighting the idea of the sublime.
The first I knew of the artist was his exploitation of oils, often mixed with sand, to build up heavily textured impasto paintings such as ‘Rorate Caeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum’, mixed media, 2006 - that has also been exhibited at the White Cube. He uses an aggressive application of materials that associates itself with the history of Germany he often seeks to portray. And I always find myself complimenting the artists whose subject and technique align to additive affect.
It is due to the first and second reason that works that are almost always 2D, stray, like much of contemporary art, into the 3D – not content with established and boxed techniques. Kiefer is able to combine the abilities of paintings to depict the strength of colour and design, and sculpture to be sensational. For example the nine pieces of ‘I hold all the Indias in my hand’ from my favourite part, the upstairs gallery are, as those downstairs, photographs worked over. These images of him bathing in the sea echo the idea brought about by the title, which is an extract from a seventeenth-century poem by Francisco de Quevedo, meditating on love and loss. These are overlaid with bath crystals to emphasis spume; and by marbling techniques in complimentary peppermint greens and burnt rusting umbers, which frame the figure as well as areas of natural water patterning such as ripples. In places, this forms the mist of misconception of the naive, whereas the burnt oranges arise like a fire of passion. All continuing what the downstairs room began with insinuating – the sublime. He uses technique to deep poetic effect – assumed even before the quotation to literature is observed.
I would encourage you to do as I, always see the work of Kiefer when it is advertised…
Paintings are pictured in the order they are referenced across the article.
This exhibition is at the White Cube in Hoxton, N1, until 9 April 2011.