Kiefer spent his early childhood in Donaueschingen, surrounded by the rubble of the city’s bombings. He initially studied law and languages before devoting himself to art, and was influenced by his early contact with Joseph Beuys.
From the outset Kiefer grappled with questions of collective memory, asking what it meant to be a German artist in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Many of his paintings took the form of landscapes, invoking the spectre of German Romanticism. These artworks, however, became physical topographies in their own right, forged from tactile media including lead, glass, straw, wood, plant matter, ash and earth. His terrains were broken and bruised, often haunted by ghostly figures or traces of Third Reich architecture. At the same time, new life quivered within their surfaces, animated by the symbolic and alchemical potency of their materials.
Over the course of his oeuvre Kiefer has navigated a vast repertoire of recurring imagery and ideas. German and Norse mythology — often filtered through the operas of Richard Wagner — is brought into confrontation with the Bible, the Kabbalah and the poetry of Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann. Figures from Margarete, Shulamith and Lilith to Brunhilde and Lot’s wife stalk his vast, cosmic worlds, navigating the space between heaven and earth. Frequent references to palettes and books — including his Book with Wings sculptures and his elegiac Breaking of the Vessels (1990) — would come to symbolise the endurance of art and knowledge.
In 1992 Kiefer moved to Barjac in the South of France, where he transformed a derelict silk factory into a studio complex. Since 2007 he has lived and worked in Paris. His works have performed strongly at Christie’s: Dem Unbekannten Maler (1983) and Laßt tausend Blumen blühen! (1999) account for some of his top auction prices. He continues to exhibit prominently, with notable installations at the Palazzo Ducale, Venice and the Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris.
Beschwert sind die östlichen Himmel mit Seidengewebe... The Eastern Skies are Laden with Silk...
Dein und mein Alter und das Alter der Welt (Your age and my age and the age of the world)