(Current Studies, by blog description (2015-16)) - Click on each label to see corresponding posts!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The legacy of life... More exploration of the medium

Thinking further about Anselm Kiefer's paintings in a deeper engagement with the mediums, I had the notion of how, on an everyday basis, we live our lives through a series of transactions with different objects, each time we touch an object we actually leave something of ourselves behind on it.  It's only comparatively recently, but this transference has begun to be analysed, particularly in the application of forensics and evidence gathering by law enforcement agencies, but I think there is a much wider exploration of this.

By engagement with the drawing and imitating the methods used by the Grand Masters, where I have been copying classical examples of their work, it sparked off this notion of the legacy, what they have left behind.  I was thinking about this as I was drawing one of my old faithful jumpers.  Everybody has favourite clothes.  They might not be the smartest, but for some peculiar reason only known to the wearer,  they bring a sense of comfort through becoming an enveloping embrace upon one's body.  This idea of an envelopment, like a child in their mother's arms, together with the notion of safety, a safe place to be in.  Regardless of whatever environment the outside world, might be throwing at you.
But not only the physical aspect of the wrapping and envelopment, but also a connection with memories, happy memories?  The combination of safety and happiness in wrapping the wearer.

Let us explore this a little deeper.  If you lose that favourite piece of clothing,  strangely, the response to it, is a sort of grief.  A sense of loss, a sense of losing all those memories and happy feelings, all wrapped up in an inanimate object.

But then again, let's go a little deeper still.  The notion of leaving something behind is a real rich source of enquiry.  The old coat thrown over the back of the chair, on the face of it can seem like something left behind.  It has a transient quality about it.  It is not going to remain there forever.  It has a temporal relationship with the world.

...Or does it?  I wanted to create something that appears permanent like a rock or stone, but even then, stone weathers and starts to disintegrate.  And where does this go?  It turns to dust.  it converts everything else that is organic, or even man-made.  Eventually, it all turns to dust.

The dust we leave behind on a daily basis is minute.  The tiniest shedding of skin, hair, saliva, and other detritus which all has a unique signature held within either its chemical composition, or as an organic form, its DNA.  This can be traced.  This can lead itself right back to you.  No matter how old it is.  It is your legacy.  Like the great masters who I started to imitate, their legacy is all recognisable as something that they have left behind.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Art review of Rosmarie Trockel, Contemporary Art in Context. A lecture by Dr A. Rowley, University of Huddersfield

Continuing the theme of art in the feminist movement, today we looked at the works of Rosemarie Trockel, and in particular the pieces entitled "Knit works."

Rosemarie Trockel was born in 1959 in the German town of Schwerte, a suburb of Dortmund in the north-Rhine -Westphalia region. She therefore grew up during the 1960s & 70s, - a quite turbulent part of Germany's history, after fully emerging from the Second World War.  She now lives and works in Cologne, not far from her birthplace & roots, some 60 or so Km to the north east.

What Dr Rowley finds particularly interesting in Trockel's work is the seemingly un-fathom-ability of it.
The first piece of art to be scrutinised today is "Two balaclavas" 1990, machine knitted balaklavas fitted onto manikin happens.  The design for both these balaclavas has been taken from the works of Bridget Riley, and her particular designs which were created and then duplicated by a machine knitting process.  Trockels work is about the feminist sexuality, the explotation of women, and here, the femininity of the knitting process, but on an industrial scale.  It also brings in the concept of crafted items and the handmade history in art (going back to William Morris on one level), but then introducing its industrialisation as a contemporary artwork and hence pushing it into "high art" status.

Other designs that Truckel has used in her works include the Comunist Soviet Union's hammer and sickle as a knitted item, placed onto a red striped background as found on the stars and stripes flag of the USA, together with another machine knitted work of the swastika, both items being created in 1987, a time when Germany was becoming much, much more stable from the turmoil of the 1970s, whilst it was undergoing huge political reform.

Rosemarie Truckel quite often uses iconic designs as the basis of the knitted work, which for example, also include the classic "wool mark" and also the Hugh Heffner "Bunny-Girl" logo.

In the work, entitled "Continental divide" created in 1994, Truckel creates a 'feminised' style of the two headed jumper, which has been photographed with twin models wearing it.  This is an allusion to the Berlin Wall coming down, and also the reunification of Germany as a whole.

Switching back to the symbolism of the balaclava, this alludes also to the 1972, Black September gang, when balaclavas were extensively used by terrorists, and the murder of the Israeli Olympic team whilst they were residing within the Olympic village during the Munich Olympics of 1972.

Another iconic image may be that of Patty Hearst, the rich American millionaire's daughter, who was taken hostage by the Symbionese liberation organisation.

There is also a reference to the Bade-Minehoff gang, which the German artist Gerhart Richter created a "Youth Portrait" of in 1988, an oil on canvas, which was in fact a portrait of the younger Minehoff prior to her fame during the seige, some 10 years earlier in 1978.  (The graphical history of the Baader-Meinhof gang was recreated by Gerhart Richter through his series of works entitled "October" some 10 years later.  (This has been shown recently at the Tate modern in London too)).  Richter's work is ostensibly about the imprisonment of the dying Baader-Meinhof gang.  Richter's work is a very different feeling or response to that of Rosemarie Truckel.  Both have a quality of a feminist view, but are very different within their structure.

An interesting article is an hour-long video on you Tube entitled "Baader-Meinhof in love with terror".  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnUnR9S4vLo

This video starts with footage in Somalia in Mogadishu on 18 October 1977, which to some was the climax of a war against capitalism through the acts of terrorism.  This war against capitalism reached a peak, particularly in Germany in the 1970s, where an attempted communist revolution was in full swing.  In fact, this communist revolution originally started in 1968, during the Berlin riots, and was a communist backlash against the German authorities which still seemed to maintain a number of ex-Nazi party leaders within its government.

Truckel often seems to play on a feminist position and this can be seen quite clearly in an untitled works where she has placed a model in front of the George Baselitz's painting, which alludes to an earlier piece of feminist exploitation, where the designer Cecil Beaton created a photograph for Vogue magazine in 1951.  By placing a model in front of a painting by Jackson Pollock.  In both these works, the feminist political point is being made about models being exploited and juxtaposed with art for art's sake.

Rosemarie Truckel also parodies a number of earlier modernist and post modernist artists, for example, Carl Andre and his works "Satier", which were made from a sheet of lead placed on top of a sheet of copper.
In Truckel's parody, this is depicted in "hotplates" (1991), which is a piece of work that is made from steel and black lacquer, together with real electric oven hotplates, in order to represent the hotplates of an oven.

Another parody, this time being that of the very masculine work by Robert Smithson entitled "Spiral Jetty" (1970) takes the reference of Smithsons' work and turns into a feminine item, almost alluding to the womb and together with fallopian tubes.

Truckel also writes and makes books such as "my films just make me laugh."  (1992) on title.
  Within this work she has referenced Brigette Bardot, a 1960s and 70s film icon of the beautiful Frenchwoman.  This has been later parodied by Truckel by making a cast of North-sea grey seal, which appears to be dead and hanging upside down, but also wearing a blonde wig.  This is an extremely effective and affected charged symbol of death and in my opinion hints at the death of the exploitation of the typical blonde model such as Brigette Bardot.

Another drawing which alludes to Truckels' feminist tendencies, is that of the late Jackie Onasis, or Jackie Kennedy, who is depicted within this drawing with horns, like the devil.

At the 1997 dOCUMENTA X exhibition Rosemarie Truckel collaborated with Carsten Höllier, in her works entitled "a house for pigs and people."  (1997).  I wondered if this is a piece of works about the anxiety of the German Bougiuose, but it may equally be about the treatment of pigs held in captivity?  There is also a suggestion of the juxtaposition between clean and unclean?  These are often seen as troubled regions of how humans exist, and creates an uncomfortable position.  Truckel may be creating a track or a path back through the green movement (which she is also interested in), through to the history to the Baader-Meinhof?...

Rosemarie Truckel's themes and works are never "didactic".  They do not hit you over the head with their meanings.  There is always something hidden and ambiguous about what she creates.  This can be seen quite vividly in the works "A Cosmos" (2012 to 13) exhibited at the new Museum in New York.  Within this work there appears to be a palm tree suspended upside down from the ceiling.  Within the room with its back wall completely tiled in small white 4"x4" clinical white tiles.  On the wall to the left-hand side is a small photographic image of the spider, in fact, a large tarantula, covering the genital region of a woman lying on her back semi-naked.  On the right-hand side of the room are fixed to the wall appears to be a large nugget like object, again painted white, which at first sight looks like a piece of volcanic lava or perhaps an alien meteorite.  So, what do these images allude?  Is the upside down palm tree, a reference to Yggdrasil and the tree of life being turned upside down similar to our new culture in the new millennium?  Are the white ceramic tiles on the back wall, a reference to the Holocaust and the gas chambers of Nazi Germany?  What does the strange object, the meteorite alludes to?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Artist Review, - Anselm Kiefer, Scale and Materiality

My aim in this essay is to justify a few of Anselm Kiefer’s early works as key contributions to contemporary art and communication; to analyse his emerging use of materials in particular; to question composition and materiality in order to adumbrate their relationship with the historical and contextual significance; to touch on the process of grief together with Kiefer’s wrangling of German myths and memories, and highlight references to literature throughout his life’s journey.

I will not examine other aspects of Kiefer’s art, such as more recent political, philosophical and scientific allegories often found in his later works, which are too numerous and rich in detail to cover in this short essay. I will however, discuss the significance of his changing use of materials, his notions towards materiality, and the position with respect to some other influences within contemporary art that Kiefer’s work has been able to either complement, or challenge during the last 50 years.

Footnote; this essay was written to coincide with Anselm Kiefer’s 70th Birthday on 8th March 2015. Also noting the death of Adolph Hitler, 30th April 1945 (highly significant in the culture that forms much of Kiefer’s early commentary, and coincidentally, the final submission date for this essay).

Anselm Kiefer, Born 1945 - 

Anselm Kiefer was born into the turmoil of history, at the close of World War II, shortly before the suicide of Adolf Hitler. After the war, the ‘sense of an overwhelming guilt’ on the remaining German nation, struggling to come to terms with the destruction and devastation caused by the Third Reich, has been suggested as a nation going through the processes of grief, a subject well written about by many, e.g. (Arrase, 2001), (Arnds, 2002) (Lauterwein, 2007) and compared with clinical grief (Worden, 2010 (4th Edition)) and emotional transition e.g. (Bridges, 2009 (3rd Edition)). The initial emotion was anger, (e.g. the Nuremburg trials, 1945-46) then, a sort of denial (a ‘reality’ in terms of a sort of ‘state forced’ disbelief), through the 1950s and 60s when Anselm Kiefer was maturing into early adulthood.
"Multiple ways of interpreting experiences are available to each of us through interacting with others, and that it is the meaning of our experiences that constitutes reality. Reality, consequently, is 'socially constructed'" (Bogdan & Biklen, 2002 (4th Edition)).
It could be suggested that the next grief process, of ‘acceptance’ became a huge and possibly subliminal, motivator for Kiefer. Having originally studied Law then Romantic Literature, he then switched to Art, seemingly in order to express it. (Finger & Weidemann, 2011).

Anselm Kiefer’s early career was immersed within a newly established democratic German society, albeit, still undergoing considerable turmoil. The division of East Germany (Soviet controlled Germany Democratic Republic) from West Germany (The Federal Republic of Germany, initially controlled by the Western Allies) and subsequent partition of Berlin. Later, a rising undercurrent of political unrest in GDR spreading to FDR which was (after 15+ years of economic growth in the GDR, known as Wirtschaftswunder, or “economic miracle”) (Barkin, 2015), born from the idealism of re-settled East Germans who had crossed over to the west. This also marked the start of escalation of the cold war between the Americans and Soviets, and later stirred up anti-war sentiments of the younger generations, especially against American involvement in Vietnam throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

Within this context, Kiefer, began painting in the Neo-Expressionist style, exhibiting together with George Baselitz; both major contributors of the movement of the 1970s. By artistically ‘replaying’ the German war histories during and after graduation, depicting himself in poses from older German art compositions (e.g. Fig 1, Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer above a Sea of Fog’, 1818), and then photographing or painting them whilst making a ‘Nazi’ salute (e.g. ‘Occupations’, Kiefer, 1969), - he set his mark of recognition.

This symbolic gesture was extremely provocative, in fact, legally forbidden by the governing allies, within the German Democratic and Federal Republics. Although a calculated yet courageous risk, Kiefer was not alone in trying to shock the people of Germany into recognizing that the atrocities of the war could no longer be ‘forcefully’ subdued. I believe this in itself deserves generous recognition.
Contemporary writers also influenced Kiefer, particularly those like Heinrich Böll, Paul Celan and others providing a sometimes humorous yet uncomfortable literary truth telling (e.g. Günter Grass (The Tin Drum -1959) about the dark years in Germany’s history.

Kiefer continued to create works of deeply sensitive and intellectual meaning, usually referring to German history, both recent (war) and ancient (myth). (Lauterwein, 2007). In many paintings, he also included a line or more of text, and (perhaps in sympathetic reference to the “new” literal trends of the late 1960s American peers, particularly like Joseph Kosuth) yet in contrast to Kosuth’s rejection of the painted image in art, or the notion of art as idea, as idea, Kiefer maintains the narrative quality of subtly composed images.

Other early works, such as ‘Siegfried forgets Brünhilde’ (1973, 1975), depicting snow covered fields which had been recently ploughed, with converging furrows up to the distant horizon, also became a regular theme. The use of a limited colour pallet of blues browns and whites, to create images of barren flat land with distant forests, which are not unlike the fields and forests found in the desolate areas that the Nazis used to locate Auschwitz and Belsen, two of the most notorious death camps of the holocaust. Kiefer uses a reference, but neither direct, nor obvious. Together with careful choice of titles, this is a cunning and clever device, with far more meaning packed in than first viewed…

The Siegfried and Brünhilde myth came from ancient Norse (Northern German) history, which Richard Wagner used as the basis for his opera, the Ring cycle. This, together with its mythical narrative was a favourite reference of the Nazi party. Military operations that the Nazis planned during the Second World War were so named after its mythical sovereignty and importance.
Kiefer chose similar titles with reference to those Norse legends and went on to appropriate names of mythical characters (from the Nibelung), (Lauterwein, 2007) (p71-72).
He weaved new manifestations of history, through reference to the Nazi operations but also to remind viewers of the grotesque destruction & human violation, (e.g. Fig 6 & 7), through regularly repeating the image of long flat landscapes with ploughed furrowed fields that induce a sense of cold isolation and abandonment.

Furthermore, these compositions of fields and ploughed earth are also linked to Hitler’s deep belief that the ‘true’ Germans (of Norse myth) came from the soil itself, the Blut und Boden (blood and soil) were conjoined in the Nazi propaganda around heritage (descent) in the blood, and land (or territory) in the soil. (Brassley & Segers, 2012)
Almost all of his early works were painted with oil on canvas, or oil on burlap during 1975 to 1976.

In 1980, Kiefer was chosen together with George Baselitz, to represent the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), at the 39th Venice Biennale. This was a crucial recognition of Kiefer’s work in its importance to Neo Expressionism (the theme was a reflection of Art of ‘70s), and also took into account the Kiefer and Baselitz links to the Fauvist (Wild Beasts) movement, (who’d been trying to break down the barriers of silence for acceptance of the [& denial of] the Holocaust, the Third Reich and World War II). This stirred condemnation in many Germans critics, yet huge admiration and acknowledgement in Americans of Kiefer’s courage in referencing the memories of Nazism, German mythology (which had also been banned from being taught in German schools) and by using his own image, which as he put it, was ‘To re-enact what they did just a little bit in order to understand the madness’. (Arrase, 2001), (From an interview published in June 1980 in Art: Das Kunstmagazin (Wiesbaden) cited in Rosenthal 1987:17).

In these exhibited representational works of composition, using oil on canvas or burlap, or with photography, together with acrylics and emulsion and other new mediums, it set Kiefer apart from his peers. In my humble opinion he showed great intellectual determination not to be swayed by artistic vogue or fashions of the time. He was then chosen to display work in New York in 1981, at the Marian Goodman Gallery and his path to international success was set…
Moving on to works post 1981, it could be suggested that Kiefer’s maturing sense of materiality and its importance in painting develops. It may have been sown and germinated by the work of Joseph Beuys, and documented by Donald Judd who noticed the merging of Sculpture with Painting in the early 1960s (Rowley, 2015). Furthermore, the size & scale of works increased dramatically as Kiefer started to use more alternative media including lead, human hair, straw, ashes, and shellac. Later still, steel, dead sunflowers, with seeds and other vegetation are introduced. He’s continued this stylistic symbolism derived from materials, often using literature as a form of reference; sometimes using his own earlier works (in a sense, re-appropriated); and a limited colour pallet based on earth hues & tones and ‘earthy’ elements.

Figure 8, 'Black Flakes', (2006) Kiefer, A.
Privatbesitz Familie Grothe. Photo Privatbesitz Famille Grothe. © Anselm Kiefer

All materials used by Kiefer hold within them unique qualities that are much deeper than initial metaphors. Their physicality, - say in the sheets of lead used as book pages, allude to the heavy burden of sorrow and guilt; and are physically heavy ancient relics from inner earth. Lead was used as a malleable and safe container for the transport of gases (as well as water), drawing upon the inference to the gas chambers of the Nazi “final solution”. The use of ashes not only allude to the ashes of the dead, but also a temporal significance of earth and are the remains of utter destruction. Ashes are the absolute aftermath of everything that once existed in an organic form. The use of dead sunflowers and seeds, allude to the temporal potential for rebirth from, and return to, the earth, and yet also when sown within the barren and infertile medium, lead one to question ‘what could have been’. Straw (the golden sun dried by-product of wheat, for bread) alludes to the hair of Brünhilde, the Norse maiden, born from the soil.

My own recent works have been hugely influenced by dramatic earth colours that Anselm Kiefer continues to incorporate. This limited pallet instils a sense of the mundane, even drudgery, which I find of interest, especially when my intent is to suggest the notion of the quotidian in my compositions.

I have also started to use mixtures of traditional painting materials (i.e. acrylic pigments) with laundry fluff and domestic detritus (Fig. 9), - symbolic references to what humans leave behind in their existence, usually without intention or concern. This transfer, of a kind of signature from each individual, has only within the last 20 years been recognised as important, like the minute quantity of oils left by a fingerprint, or even more recently, the DNA traces used for forensic evidence.

Summary & Conclusions

History itself is a material to Kiefer. It can be sculptured and reformed, - humans can re-write history to make it better or worse, depending on their intent. This is how it was in post war Germany. Kiefer’s determination that this forbidden history be re-visited through Art, not to re-write it, but to re-emphasise it through subtle and spiritual notions of the dreadful mistakes of his parents’ generation and before, is un-equalled. For this, I submit that he is one if not the most important key contributors to society, as well as contemporary art over the last 50 years.
His selection & use of materials holds both accurate and allegorical symbolic and spiritual meanings, often with multiple linkages to historical (both recent and ancient), physical and theoretical significance. These are not immediate or didactic but subtly emerge over repeated revisiting and re-studying of his art. This takes his truly unique and immense intellectual knowledge to deliver. Kiefer presents a palimpsest of handed down experiences, often re-worked or re-appropriated through earlier works of his own. It is through this layering that I totally engage with Kiefer’s views of history itself being a plastic and malleable material. The depth of his research, the skill of his ability to truly engage the viewer into a journey of curiosity and his continued unwavering zeal and tenacity, in my humble opinion, make him a true “living master”.
Finally, Kiefer has been recognised as possibly the world’s greatest living artist, and in 2008 received the German Book Trade Peace Prize, an amazing accolade as the first Artist to receive such an award. I’m sure Günter Grass (who shared similar views, writing about the guilt and shame of the German post war nation, and whom was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999), no doubt influenced the younger Anselm.

Günter Grass would also be beating his own drum for Anselm Kiefer.

(As a sad footnote, whilst writing this essay, I learned the news of the death of Günter Grass, who passed away peacefully on 12 April 2015, aged 87).
(Word count; < 2000, excl. Bibliography, titles & referencing).


  • Arnds, P. (2002). On the awful german fairy tale: Breaking taboos in representations of nazi euthanasia and the holocaust in gunter grass's die blechtrommel, edgar hilsenrath's der nazi & der friseur, and anselm kiefer's visual art. German Quarterly, 75(4), 422. Retrieved from Proquest.com (German Quarterly, 75(4), 422).: Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/209481077?accountid=11526
  • Arrase, D. (2001). Anselm Kiefer. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Barkin, K. (2015, 04 13). The Era of Partition. Retrieved from Germany, 2015 - Encyclopaedia Britannica - Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/231186/Germany/58213/The-era-of-partition
  • Bogdan, R. C., & Biklen, S. K. (2002 (4th Edition)). Qualitative research for education: An Introduction to Theory & Methods. London: Pearson Education.
  • Brassley, P., & Segers, Y. (2012). War, Agriculture, and Food: Rural Europe from the 1930s to the 1950s. London: Routledge.
  • Bridges, W. (2009 (3rd Edition)). Managing Transitions. Philadelphia, United States: De Capo Publishing.
  • Finger, B., & Weidemann, C. (2011). 50 Contemporary Artists You Should Know. Munich, London, New York: Prestel Verlag.
  • Lauterwein, A. (2007). Anselm Kiefer / Paul Celan - Myth, Mourning and Memory (2nd Edition ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.
  • Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. (2010). anselm-kiefer-art-spiritual (Retrieved 20-04-2015). Retrieved from The Luisiana Channel: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/anselm-kiefer-art-spiritual
  • Rowley, A. (2015, February). Donald Judd, a lecture by Dr Alison Rowley. Contemporary Art in Context, Lecture Series. Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
  • Worden, J. W. (2010 (4th Edition)). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. Hove, UK: Routledge.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Interpretation, Appropriation & Adaptation. - Recent reflections

I am still very concious that I'm searching for my own signature, or stylistic recogniser to my work, despite having changed my method and process many times in the journey to date.

As a result, I'm finding it increasingly worrying that without this easily recognisable signature (I'm not sure what else to call "it", where the "it" is some form of type, attribute, quality, feature, visual language, blueprint, landmark, schema or 'beatitude'), that sets my work apart from anyone else's, I'm not making the kind of progress that academic evaluators are searching for, either.

So, I was really very disappointed that my mid-term formative assessment has taken a complete nose dive, being some 10 points 'plus' lower than the mid term assessment only four months previously! - I was only 2 points away from a first degree, but now I'm 12 points away, resulting in a very mediocre 2:2 score ... The only deduction that I can make from this is that whatever I'm doing, I'm doing wrong.... Or is it maybe, I'm doing what I think is right, when in fact, I'm wasting my time and focussing on the wrong things, with regards to what is being assessed by my tutors?

All in all, this has numbed my motivation to do very much this last week, other than a selection of simple sketches, just trying to keep my eye and hand co-ordination in step...

My research into what I can do to improve, - by way of adjusting my approach, rethinking my position and trying to recover from the down-turn, also hasn't been helped by being away from the University environment on Easter vacations.

The summary of feedback is aimed at me making a re-evaluation of what I am doing completely, with respect to asking myself why I am choosing the exemplars I have selected (such as Vermeer, Da-Vinci, Michel-Angelo, Harold Speed, Charles Bargue and Paul Bonnard).
My selected Masters created schema or 'codes' within their own works, but I need to recognise these codes better, -which will allow me to then translate them into my own codification through the pieces that I make.  If I am able to recognise these 'codes' more readily, I would then be able to analyse them and start to apply my own equivalents through my own modes of engagements.  This will also help me to 'find a trace of purpose' in my works, which will result in the pieces becoming a deeper engagement and improve the subconscious dialogue with the viewer. - In other words, to keep the viewer in a mode of curiosity and inquisitive engagement with my art in a contemporary form.