Palette on a Rope

Anselm Kiefer is a German contemporary artist who lives in France. This painting is on display at the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts. Sadly the reproduction does not do justice to Kiefer’s art: his work is often monumental, and key to it is the richness of its textures and materials. However, let’s look at the composition: a diagonal line leans towards the horizontal as it moves downward, and vertical brushstrokes head towards the upper right area of the painting. In sharp contrast with a range of otherwise neutral colours, a black drawing made of schematic lines disrupts the vertical orientation of the brushstrokes by dividing the picture in an upper part and a lower one. More importantly, the focal point of the picture is located at the very centre of the painting.

According to the traditional rules of composition, the main subject should be off-centre and located in the golden ratio area. In this composition, however, as in a significant amount of Kiefer’s other paintings, the main figure is located on the median vertical axis of the picture.

The composition is symmetrical, both vertically and horizontally. There is no line of horizon but there is a hint of heaven and earth. The centre is in some way empty. The oval in the centre plays the same part as a target or a bullseye: it focuses the attention and channels the gaze. The eye may very well wander around the painting, still it will inevitably come back to this circle enriched with a dot. Many a painting of Kiefer has a comparable composition in which the eye is urged to follow convergence lines or directions that lead to a focal point located on a central axis.

Amongst other recurring themes in Anselm Kiefer’s art are: German history and culture, war, the artist/shaman connecting the invisible and the visible, and so on. Kiefer’s aesthetic choices serve his ideas, he demonstrates as much as he shows: uncontent with discussing power or strength, he uses power and strength to serve his art. When integrating sand, soil, wood, coal, lead, diamonds, when submitting them to the weathering of natural elements, not only does he evoke the destructive and creative force of nature, but he also invokes it. As for the gigantic scale of its paintings, it works on a primary level: no need to imagine the grandeur of the landscape, it is being thrust in our faces. With Kiefer, we are placed in the same position as the figures in German Romantic landscape paintings of the nineteenth century: humbled by a monumental creation.

“Palette on a Rope” (Palette am Seil), 1977, by Anselm Kiefer
Oil, acrylic, emulsion and shellac on canvas
130 x 160 cm. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

©2014 Eleonore Pironneau / Translation by Caroline Imbert and Haru Yamada

Photo Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau / © Anselm Kiefer

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