Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945, in Donaueschingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. After taking courses in law at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg from 1965 to 1966, he studied art there under Peter Dreher. He continued his studies with Horst Antes at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe in 1969 before transferring the following year to the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he met Joseph Beuys. Beuys’s interest in deploying an array of cultural myths, metaphors, and symbols as a means by which to engage and understand history inspired Kiefer.
Occupations signaled the future direction of Kiefer’s work. In his endeavor to explore his identity and heritage through art making, he boldly confronted Theodor Adorno’s declaration: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Early works, like Winter Landscape (1970) and Man in the Forest (1973), highlight human suffering and loneliness. In 1973 Kiefer turned his attention to architecture, painting a series of large-scale canvases set in the wood-grained attic of his home. With highly symbolic titles, including Father, Son, Holy Ghost (1973) and Germany’s Spiritual Heroes (1973), these interiors possess a distinct psychological charge, much like van Gogh’s representations of his own bedroom. The cavernous attic is a metaphor for the artist’s mind, a universe in which conflict and contradiction are resolved through creation.
Through the late 1980s and 1990s, mystical and mythological themes continued to proliferate in Kiefer’s ongoing dialogue with the past. With the approach of the new millennium, he looked beyond Germany for subject matter. Between 1995 and 2001, he undertook a cycle of monumental paintings of the cosmos. Light Compulsion (1999), the largest to date, shows the Milky Way, its depth and composition echoing that of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Architecture returned to the fore in 1997 with a series of archaic desert clay structures. In Your Age and My Age and the Age of the World (1997), an Egyptian pyramid rises from the barren earth. Since the late 1990s, Kiefer has devoted his energy increasingly to sculpture in mixed media; lead, however, remains a preferred material. Plants, too, are prominent in Kiefer’s recent work. The pages of his artist’s book The Secret Life of Plants (1997) as well as the surfaces of two paintings of the same title (1998 and 2001) contain images of sunflowers made using seeds from that blossom. Every Plant Has Its Related Star in the Sky (2001) ruminates on the related mysteries of the plant and celestial worlds. His more recent series of works, shown in 2005 at White Cube in London, incorporates oil, emulsion, acrylic and lead, and was inspired by the poetry of Russian modernist Velimir Chlebnikov.