‘I very much liked Friedrich ... He was a philosopher’
(A. Kiefer, 2013, quoted in C. Weikop, ‘Forests of Myth, Forests of Memory’, in Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014, p. 32).
‘I summon nature ... to help me finish the painting’
(Kiefer, quoted in Art Will Survive its Ruins, Anselm Kiefer at the Collège de France, Paris 2011, p. 185).
‘For Kiefer, art is an opening-up between order and chaos, between human and natural, between individuality and history, between heaven and earth. Through its function as a link that holds together opposites, these poles belong to each other. For this reason, the intimate reality of the artist is the original force that nourishes the tree of life, through which the human is connected to the natural, the terrestial to the celestial’
(G. Celant, quoted in: ‘The Destiny of Art: Anselm Kiefer,’ Anselm Kiefer, Milan, 1997, p. 15).
Executed in 1970, Sommer (Summer) and Nebel (Fog) are rare examples of Kiefer’s early watercolour landscapes. In one, a verdant pasture of yellow and ochre is rendered in luminous, liquescent swathes, stretching endlessly towards a mountainous horizon. In the other, a frozen panorama unfolds beneath a pale, opalescent sky, a snow-covered vista that simultaneously recalls a calm expanse of river or ocean. Delicate visions of natural beauty tinged with retrospective nostalgia, these works are remarkable within Kiefer’s oeuvre for their pure engagement with his native landscape. Devoid of human or symbolic presence, they represent poignant confrontations with the legacy of romantic sublime – one of the many German traditions which Kiefer had believed to have been overshadowed by the atrocities of the Second World War. Over the course of his oeuvre, Kiefer would attempt to fill this void with his own symbolic vocabulary, infusing his landscapes with ancient texts, mystical signs and dark, physical matter. In many works from this period, such as Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven and Winter Landscape (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), these incursions were already beginning to take shape, in the form of bloodshot apparitions and lone, Nazi-saluting figures. In Sommer and Nebel, Kiefer makes one final attempt to rekindle the romantic heritage of the past: to capture the unblemished radiance of a winter’s morning, or the sweeping majesty of golden, undulating fields. In these two works, Kiefer permits himself a moment of impossible daydream: to paint the countryside of his homeland without deflection or subversion.
Raised in the Black Forest, close to the source of the River Danube, much of Kiefer’s oeuvre is concerned with the notion of the land as a metaphysical space within which process of personal evolution or individuation are possible. Whereas artists such as Caspar David Friedrich had been struck by the overwhelming power of the Germanic vistas they encountered, Kiefer found it impossible to dissociate his native soil from the trauma of its recent past. In a typically Nietzschean way, but also one that probably reflects the influence of Joseph Beuys, Kiefer saw the role of the artist within post-War German society as being fundamentally a shamanic one, enabling a healing of history’s scars. For Kiefer, born just a few months before the end of the war, the European landscape was already something of a relic, and during his MA studies the artist had undertaken a tour of sites of Nazi occupation. The saluting figures that populate many of his early paintings were construed as self-projections: attempts to come to terms with a history before his time. Kiefer’s career may be understood as a kind of wandering odyssey in which the artist attempted bring about a catharsis of the wounded landscape and, in doing so, to gain a clearer understanding of his own identity. In works such as Sommer and Nebel, we see the start of this journey beginning to take shape.