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Case Study: Anselm Kiefer

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

How many artists can you name that consider themselves mixed media artists. I think too often we confuse multi media and mixed media. Of course, most today are multi media. No kidding. A painting turns into a digital print, turns into a t-shirt, and so on. But, I mean mixed media? That pertains to an artist who actually mixes media. No one in my opinion does such more seamlessly that German painter Anselm Kiefer. He combines large-scale paintings with found materials; literally mixing media on the surface of the canvas.

Take a look at the work above. I have never been lucky enough to view Kiefer’s work in person. However, I imagine it is completely overwhelming in a good way. The massive size, the perfectly combined raw materials that blend into the pigment. Even though I am familiar with the catalogue of his work, I still get fooled initially and it takes me some time to realize the materials. As for this painting in particular, it is a very interesting approach to portraying war at sea. One loan ship sits static in the center of a chaotic sea. The scene seems to portray the moments following a naval battle. The ship looks battered and beaten, while simultaneously still. Meanwhile the ocean and sky surrounding look like an orchestrated mess. Dull blue painted water is interrupted by explosive splats of bright tones. The sheer magnitude of color and material filling the huge canvas envelope the ship, the same way that the painting overwhelms the viewer. It wraps you up but in a way it is comforting to be surrounded.

Much of Kiefer’s work is routed in the Germany that he grew up in. As a kid he was surround by rubble and destruction in the time following World War II. He makes that rubble a part of his work both literally and figuratively. Dealing conceptually with the defeated ideology of the nazi regime, and actually adhering straw and loose building materials to the canvas. In an interview Anselm ponders what it means that his work is ever changing. The way he hangs it on a gallery wall is never the way that it stays. Flaking off. Crumbling chunks. His work exists with fluidity. I feel there is a correspondence between his process of making, the actual image depicted, and the changing state of the work. Kiefer challenges the idea of permanence. When we experience things they seem to go on forever, but then we look at history and all things end. Wars, ideals, structures. They all end. Nothing is permanent. Like the work we look forward, enjoy, and the look back on everything.

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