To my mind's eye, Kiefer's work has what I am seeking: heart, soul and authenticity.
It's been a while since I have had an experience of heartfelt inspiration in a gallery but this autumn's major Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Royal Academy most definitely hit the spot. Kiefer's is one of several current shows that are a celebration of the glorious possibilities of paint. I had fully expected that it would be Rembrandt's Late Works, at the National Gallery, that would provide me with that heart-stopping high. Rembrandt's buttery, sculpted impasto and dark translucent shadows have always stopped me in my tracks but this time it was Kiefer who had the greater and most enthralling impact.
My favourite series of works on show at the R.A. are the huge paintings of Nazi-Era architecture. Kiefer, often spending several years on individual canvases, manages to evoke the crumbling of an entire empire. These are vast monuments to hubris and decay, made in oil, emulsion and acrylic, ash, earth and clay. They are an exquisite expression of the weight of history on the German psyche.They take my breath away.
It doesn't surprise me that a chemical change is involved. When I describe my viewer's response to Keifer, the language I use is about physical sensation: heartfelt, breathtaking, heart stopping... At a certain moment when I am making a new work, I become infatuated with it, I am drunk on its possibility, my heart races, I am on a high. Then there is the real downer when I start to see it as just something else I made. Semir Zeki cites Lucien Freud on this subject. "A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation and disappears towards the completion of the work...Were it not for this, the perfect painting might be painted, on the completion of which the painter could retire. It is this great unsufficiency that drives him on...The process is habit forming."