“By themselves the fleshy spade and spadex (of the dried flower) announce the theme of fertility, which for Kiefer alludes to the tears of Isis, the rising of the Nile and, by extension, to Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates, the rivers of the fertile crescent and the Babylonian captivity. In Sumerian legend the Euphrates was one of four sacred rivers of Paradise, flowing from the womb of the great goddess and the rivers later became a Christian symbol for the four gospels flowing from Christ to the four corners of the earth.” (J. HALLMARK NEFF, Anselm Kiefer: Bruch und Einug, exh. cat., Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 1987, p. 62.)
Rhythmically layered, Anselm Kiefer’s Euphrat comprises three recurring rectangular forms: a lead backdrop and a quadrate photograph depicting a cracked, arid flowerbed. The lead support, shrouded in a cool aqueous corrosion, juxtaposes the barren soil of the sepia-toned photograph, while a solitary dried red flower offsets the monochrome background with a seductive interruption of colour. Executed in 1987, Euphrat is one of a number of works in which the artist engages with the historical and spiritual connotations of Euphrates River. Inspired by a series of trips to the Middle East, it was during this period that the emphasis of Kiefer’s work shifted away from German history and towards more universal notions of spirituality and occult symbolism. According to Sumerian legend, the Euphrates was one of four sacred rivers that cascaded from the great goddess’s womb and formed the birthplace of civilisation. In the rippling lead surface of the present work – emblematic of the river’s current – it becomes a motif that allows Kiefer to explore themes of fertility, spirituality and the metaphysical link between heaven and earth. The use of lead, a key medium in Kiefer’s work, is a reference to the spiritual yearning of human kind: the alchemistic faith in the capacity to turn lead to gold alludes to the humanistic credence that spirituality spawns a purer self. This concept is re-articulated through the crimson flower, which drops from the zenith of the composition to the soil below, reconciling heavenly and earthly domains. The flower, whose seeds sow the earth, alludes to the fertility of the Euphrates, while its vulvic shape underscores Kiefer’s reference to reproduction. Although the work celebrates genesis, Kiefer acknowledges that life is contingent upon the inevitability of death, both through the desiccated petals and the wooden flowerbed, which eerily resemble a casket. By fusing civilizational and religious motifs within a single esoteric composition, Kiefer conveys his overarching desire to explore the mystical forces that underpin human existence.