Three major themes occur again and again throughout Kiefer's oeuvre: the relationship between art and nature, the relationship between mythology and history, and the possibility for a rebirth of German culture through the metaphor of alchemy. In Johannisnacht, a series of paintings he started in 1986, Kiefer's interest in the symbolic and evocative qualities of materials, including straw, sand, ash, and lead - representing the fragility of the materials and comparing this to his own sense of history and the fate of Germany - has been pushed to a simplified and poignant summary of thought.
"The straw and, in this case, the fern are both symbols for Midsummer Night in Germany, when the summer solstice is at its highest point, the seeds of fern are collected for use in rituals that have to do with invulnerability and invisibility. The fern, then, is an archetypal element of life that, nonetheless, has been given various, abtruse meanings by Kiefer's forebears. He seeks to remove it from its German association and, as befits his more alchemical interests, narratively reunite the material with its original context." (Celant, unpaged).
Here, the lead represents a kind of universal field, replacing the old structures of land, architecture and sea in his paintings. The fragile straw is replaced by the more durable fern, which, according to the artist, has existed since the beginning of time and from which energy such as coal and wood arised. Uniting these two elements, lead and fern, universe and energy emanate a divine aura, free of historical baggage.