- Written by Clelia
The sculptor and painter Antoni Tàpies was born (Barcelona 1923) into a well-to-do Catalan publishing dynasty and it was here and how his love of reading started. Lung disease left him unable to continue his law studies but did allow him to exhibit circa 1940, in what turned out to be the start of a long artistic career, his earliest pieces which featured mainly graphic art. Due to the destruction wrought by the Second World War and the impact of the atomic bomb, he expressed, through innovative new techniques, his interest in dust, earth, matter and atoms, all elements that became intrinsic to his later textured paintings. Heavily influenced by Klee y Miró, his iconographic compositions increased to now include greater expressivity and communication using dense textures as well as some geometric elements.
The sculptor and painter Antoni Tàpies was born (Barcelona 1923) into a well-to-do Catalan publishing dynasty and it was here and how his love of reading started. Lung disease left him unable to continue his law studies but did allow him to exhibit circa 1940, in what turned out to be the start of a long artistic career, his earliest pieces which featured mainly graphic art. Due to the destruction wrought by the Second World War and the impact of the atomic bomb, he expressed, through innovative new techniques, his interest in dust, earth, matter and atoms, all elements that became intrinsic to his later textured paintings.
"Grattage Rojo" (Red grattage). Image available at www.tiempodehoy.com
"Cruz y Tierra" (Cross and Soil). Image available at www.repro-arte.com
Image (right): Bed, available at www.tallerdecartasdeamor.wordpress.com
Image: Antoni Tàpies, available at www.trianarts.com
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Clelia
Awarded the 14th Annual Larry Aldrich Contemporary Art prize for "significant impact on visual culture", Elizabeth Peyton (Connecticut, 1965) is an American painter, photographer and multimedia artist. After a childhood steeped in artistic influences, she graduated from New York's School of Visual Arts with a degree in Fine Arts and the ability to draw with her left hand, having only two fingers on her right. She became an assistant to Ronald Jones and also worked in picture archives. She was married to the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija from 1991 to 2004. She currently lives and works in New York City. Renowned as a portraitist of famous figures from the world of entertainment, literature and history, she paints from published editorial photographs, both old and recent, or from her own private collection of snapshots.
Awarded the 14th Annual Larry Aldrich Contemporary Art prize for "significant impact on visual culture", Elizabeth Peyton (Connecticut, 1965) is an American painter, photographer and multimedia artist. After a childhood steeped in artistic influences, she graduated from New York's School of Visual Arts with a degree in Fine Arts and the ability to draw with her left hand, having only two fingers on her right. She became an assistant to Ronald Jones and also worked in picture archives. She was married to the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija from 1991 to 2004. She currently lives and works in New York City.
Renowned as a portraitist of famous figures from the world of entertainment, literature and history, she paints from published editorial photographs, both old and recent, or from her own private collection of snapshots. Her every picture captures the influence on her life of well-known personalities such as Oscar Wilde, Napoleon or John Lennon, this latter canvas selling at auction for a record US $800,000 in 2005. She also paints those lesser-known or unknown to a wider audience: 'Craig', for instance, 'Ben' or 'Spencer', titles identifying just the sitter's name but no further clarification or clues whatsoever.
John 1971, available at http://www.moma.org/
In 1998, Peyton published her book "Craig", combining journalistic notes, photographs and drawings, with the aim of showing celebrities like Princess Diana or Johnny Rotten in more informal, intimate settings and endowing them with almost angelic overtones. She has made this comment about her art:"I like the idea of beauty coming from lots of things and that it's not easy to get there." In each of her portraits, however, she manages to capture the spirit and human qualities of her subjects, making them more approachable to the spectator, less distant and stripped bare of any airs and graces. She envisages her subjects in a space that transforms them into something familiar and close, like something or someone we see everyday. "Celebrity, in itself, is of no interest to me as such ... I just think about Art and what it means for society." she was quoted in one of her interviews.
Elizabeth Peyton 1 (2009), available at http://www.simonettaatrezzoeinteriorismo.com/
Another factor in her creations is music, especially rock, which inspires and informs the ambience suffusing her portraits. Take, for example, the cover of Suede's compilation album "The Best of Suede". Some of her profiles are of musicians such as Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Pete Doherty, Keith Richards and David Bowie but there are also those of members of European Royal Families including two British princes as young boys.
11th of September (Ben) (2001), available at http://blog.visitlondon.com/
In the nineties, her work could be seen to manifest itself in much paler colours, deft and assured brushstrokes, a sense of the romantic and a more expressive composition. In 2001, she moved to Manhattan where she began working with live models for the first time, rather than magazine or newspaper photographs, and also using a more subdued palette. She fused mood with static objects in her illustrations of this time, using movie scenes and still lifes in, for instance, "Pati" (2007), "Flowers and Diaghilev" (2008), "Houdini" and "Flowers, Lichtenstein, Parsifal" (2009).
Flowers. Lichtenstein, Parsifal, available at https://elizabethpeyton.wordpress.com
Elizabeth Peyton continued to depict personalities from her own social circle as well as more globally famous ones in 2010 and 2011, but with a much more brilliant colour scheme and a more mature, reflective style. Her canvasses can be seen on display in important museums worldwide such as the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Fine Arts in Boston and New York's New Museum, to name but a very few.
Her first ever individual exhibition was at Broadway's Althea Viafora Gallery in 1987 and she has continued to show her art frequently up until the present day. In recent years, she has exhibited along with Jonathan Horowitz at "Secret Life" (London, 2012) in which she showcases still lifes of Nature, bringing together psychology and plants and "Regen Projects" in Los Angeles. In 2013, she presented "Klara" comprising 13 of her works and "Here She Comes Now" in Germany. In 2014, she exhibited "Street posters in The Centre of Arles" at the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation in France.
Live to Ride, available at http://whitney.org/
Klara, available at http://www.glasstire.com/
Elizabeth Peyton does not centre her paintings around beauty stereotypes. Rather, she seeks to validate the person she paints as the means to experiencing beauty in a tangible way, using their image for inspiration but also inviting us to a deeper knowledge that takes us beyond the sublime to a place of absolute beauty. Critics have said of her that: "She chronicles her social circle of artists and musicians; and the suggestive abstractions of O'Keefe."
The artist herself was quoted as saying: "I love everything I do. Working from photographs or "in the flesh" or from memory ... from up close, life has more immediacy, excitement, emotion, as if in freefall, because everything is happening right there and then. Photographs of faces possess a kind of colour saturation and a sense of deterioration you don't find in real life, which I also love."
Irises, available at http://www.artnews.com/
ws-peyton, available at http://painternyc.blogspot.com.es/
David Bowie (2012), available at http://fr.phaidon.com
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Ángeles Blanco
Author: Ángeles Blanco.
Blessed with boundless energy and eager to experiment continually, the multifaceted Miguel Barceló has been surprising us with his work for over forty years. Constantly on the move, nomad-like, he makes wherever he lays his hat his studio and the new surroundings his latest inspiration. This light, that dust, the ocean, sea caves and multidisciplinary artistic influences are what constitute the trace elements of his trajectory.
Majorca, his birthplace, was where he experimented with art for the first time, perhaps influenced by his mother who painted for a time, or perhaps because he had it coursing through his veins. What is certain is that it was here that he learnt to love the grottos and the sea and formed a friendship with Joan Miró whose heavy influence can be seen in the markedly Expressionist animal themes of his early work. In those early days of the 70's, on a visit to Paris he discovered artists such as Paul Klee and Dubuffet and found himself influenced by Art Brut that gave him the impetus to explore uncharted territory himself. Among others, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Lucio Fontana were all artists who gave him momentum whilst Velázquez, Tintoretto and Rembrandt were his link to tradition. Baroque painting, American Abstract Expressionism, Arte Povera, Action painting and Conceptual Art have all influenced the imagination of this Neo-impressionist who, self-taught by means of voraciously reading everything he could lay his hands on, ended up forging his very own artistic path.
An incessant experimenter, taking full advantage of the Nature and organic elements around him, some of his work is on its own journey and evolves with the passage of time. He puts his paintings outdoors at the mercy of the elements, deliberately allowing them to rust or crack, using organic material whose deterioration is very much part of his artistic meaning. As in his 1986 exhibition Cadaverina 15 in Majorca, where he displayed 225 boxes containing organic and inorganic products that proceeded to decompose over time. He has also used the "dripping" technique on canvasses subsequently painted over with white. In the 80's his style moved more towards the figurative where zoological themes proliferated. Whereas with paper and card collage techniques, he created a series of self-portraits, depicting himself painting in his studio, and one of still-lifes while in Paris.
In his Nature-inspired work, the Mediterranean and Africa are his most important reference points. During his time in Mali, contact with the natives and their desert life, have impacted on his themes as much as his methodology. Concerns about the natural world, the passing of time, roots, scenes of daily life and African landscapes, small format, more detailed drawing, thick and dark pasting on of paint to give a relief effect and achieved using the mud and pigments he has to hand locally.
The sea is another of Barceló's recurring themes, The Mediterranean and Majorca having inspired many of his paintings: blue and white seascapes like waves lapping or the azure sea beds he sees for himself while diving deep down. Along with the desertscapes, they are scenes of Nature's infinity and of heightened symbolism.
Barceló, defined by Enrique Vila-Matas as having «amazing energy, a strong attachment to his 'home', happily mad», formed part of the scientific committee that carried out the reproduction of Chauvet Cave art, whereby all 400 animal paintings found in the original cave in the heart of Ardèche were replicated. He admits he accepted this challenge so as to continue visiting the place. «Discovering that cave was a major shock. It made me understand the history of art differently. Chauvet is art that we are incapable of understanding».
In 1986 began his foray into architectural art with the painting of the dome of the lobby at the Flower Market Theatre in Barcelona. Here we saw the first appearance of glazing and the superimposing and abundance of materials giving a final impression of transparency.
One of Barceló's projects of the most searing magnitude, which he himself described as «physically very intense», was his decoration for the St Pere Chapel of Palma de Majorca cathedral which, after two phases of work on it, was finally finished in 2007. Here the liturgical narrative was represented in stone, stained glass, various pieces of furniture and a 300 square metre ceramic mural showing Christ, but no cross, surrounded by vegetation and maritime motifs, bread and fishes to illustrate the Feeding Of The Five Thousand, shore fauna, urns and Roman ruins referencing the classical world. Barceló has no interest in sacred art but yes in the spirituality of the places he works.
The dome of Room XX or the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room used by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the Palace of Nations (Geneva) was one of his most controversial and at the same time, internationally renowned sculptural installations. It is an immense 1400 square metre dome from which fall 35 tonnes of paint drops shaped like stalactites and coloured with pigments sourced worldwide. The result is evocative of a cave and the sea, with waves seemingly crashing thanks to stippling, which is why he is considered the inventor of Xtreme Gotelé or "extreme stucco". In allusion to this technique he says, «I wanted to defy gravity and take painting against it to the extreme». Explaining what inspired it, Barceló said at the time, «On a day of immense heat in the middle of the Sahel desert, I distinctly recall a mirage of an image of the world dripping towards the sky. Trees, dunes, donkeys, multi-coloured beings all flowing drop by drop» This idea occurred to him in the planning stages of the work, as his imagination ran riot, but he also enlisted the expertise of a team of architects and engineers to develop the super-strength aluminium for the dome. Barceló explains: «The cave is a metaphor for a gathering place, the first meeting place of human beings, the shady African tree to sit under and talk of the only future possible for us: dialogue and human rights» Ban Ki-Moon thanked the artist for putting unique talents to work in service of the world: «What he has created for this hall is innovative and radiant. I have no doubt whatsoever that people will come here to view it, whether they have business here or not» And the media christened it The Sistine Chapel of the XXI century. The controversy surrounding this immense work of art was due to opposition party claims in Spain that the source of its funding may have been redirected by the Spanish government away from the overseas aid budget set aside to alleviate poverty in developing countries.
Barceló was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of The Balearic Isles in 2007. His versatility and his ability to master multiple artistic disciplines mean that sometimes all the boundaries merge, as in some of his 90's pieces, many of which had a studio look and feel to them, a good example of this being the huge "Sculpture Workshop", a perfect blend of painting and sculpture. Or some of the portraits of people close to him, paintings with a certain sculptural air and no attempt at likeness, only what the medium or the wrinkles on the paper suggest to him at any given time. Regarding the way he works, he said this about a painting from 1983: «The technique dictated the form … something that often happens. First I do something with the paint and if I think it looks somewhat like the outlines of a fish then I paint the fish». This led him to immerse himself in the world of sculpture, a logical evolution in his work if one considers the contours and reliefs that feature so heavily in his paintings. They ended up freeing themselves from the canvas and becoming sculptural. They are moulded, bronze-like creations, nothing like the workings or motifs of his paintings.
He has illustrated other authors' books and is the foremost writer of his own catalogue prologues and books of drawings in which he reflects on art and the creative processes involved in his work. He has published books on art and photography ("The Underwater Cathedral"); he has illustrated publications such as "The Book Of The Ocean", a lengthy poem by Enric Juncosa, or "Too far from home", with watercolours to accompany a Paul Bowles text; a book for the blind, "Dismantled Tents ... or the unknown world of perceptions" with a braille text by Evgen Bavcar and complete with his lithographs and embossed decoration; and more than 300 watercolour illustrations for the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy that were subsequently showcased in an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris.
His ceramic work began in the mid 90's in Mali with modest materials and an austere technique which resulted in unique, expressive pieces of great artistic merit. And in his eagerness to experiment in all fields, he also did set designs for opera: Manuel de Falla's "Master Peter's Puppet Show" for the National Comic-Opera theatre in Paris for which he created sets, costumes and marionettes of huge dimensions; or those for Mozart's "Abduction From The Seraglio" in 2003 for the Aix-en-Provence Festival.
Without a shadow of a doubt, who we are dealing with here is Spain's most celebrated and sought-after artist whose international recognition is wholly justified by the eclecticism and "theatricality" of his much-exhibited work: enormous canvas murals, book illustrations, ceramics, sculptures, opera staging, CD covers ("Potro de rabia y miel" by Camarón de la Isla), posters (Festival Sul Novecento, Palermo 1998), entrance tickets (Arco 2005), programmes (Tour D'Espagne 1989); and on every one of his facets, he imprints the personality, energy and aggression that are his hallmarks, along with his interest in Mother Nature, both her spaces, places and the life contained within them, all set vividly against an African or Mediterranean backdrop. His work is personal, original and complex and, although similarities with other artists might be found there, his work is still impossible to categorise within any one artistic movement.
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Clelia
Marlene Dumas, born in the Cape Town suburb of Kuilsrivier in 1953 and a native Afrikaans speaker, she graduated Cape Town University in 1975 with a degree in Visual Arts.
Awarded a two-year bursary, she then moved to Holland where she made art her living and primary form of self-expression. From 1976 to 1978, she taught at Ateliers '63, Haarlem and other Dutch institutions. She devoted herself and her time to painting people or places from her own vast collection of photographs or those in newspapers and magazines. Her works were small format, realistic portraiture of an intimacy that divested its subjects of their public persona, instead cloaking them in a criticism of their identity or politics.
Her pieces are figurative trompe l’oeils that provoke a sense of unease. Their language of movement is manifest in each figure. She draws the faces of adults and children, both alive and dead, with insistency and ambiguity. For Dumas, graphology is a subjective interpretation, her doodling somewhat unintelligible, but always carefully chosen and pronounced, each colour making perfect sense, as shown in 1988’s “Waiting”.
The work she produced over a 30 year trajectory was exhibited in a retrospective: "Intimate Relations” between 2007 and 2009. Her initial success was in Japan and next, for the first time ever, in her native South Africa, leading to exhibitions in art galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles and Houston.
In 1998, Dumas was awarded the Sandberg prize, along with other distinctions such as the Coutts Contemporary Art and the Prince Bernhard prizes. In 2010, the Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa awarded her an honorary doctorate in Humanities and in 2011 she received the Rolf Choque prize. Her creations are part of the collections of international museums and institutions such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London, some of which have them on permanent display.
She started exhibiting in 1978 at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and continued in Basil with Documenta 7 in 1982. Her first solo exhibition was in 1983 and one year later at the Central Museum of Utrecht. She presented her series of collages, creations and self-penned text entitled "Ons Tierra Licht Lager dan de Zee” but it was only in 1985 that she exhibited her paintings series: “The eyes of the creatures of the night”. Dumas talks of her pieces in “Sweet Nothings” with unexpected names, texts and commentary.
She participated in the European Art collective exhibition at the Tate in London during 1987. Her work received recognition in Europe and America in 1989 with “The Pink Human’s Question” after which came Documenta 9 in 1992.
Along with contemporaries such as Gerhard Richter, she was part of “Der Spiegel zerbrochene” in 1993, and also exhibited in London at the well-known Frith Street Gallery with Thomas Schütte and Juan Muñoz. She represented Holland at the Venice Biennial of 1995 along with two other women, María Roossen and Marijke van Warmerdam. She participated in prestigious collective picture exhibitions in Africa among other countries, with “Paintings at the Edge of the World” in 2001 and “Paintings of Modern Life” in 2007. The last decade has seen her exhibiting in cities like Chicago, Venice, Tokyo, Paris or New York to name but a few.
Dumas defines herself as a “collector of images”. Exhibits like “Models” in Salzburg and “Suspect” in Venice present us with advertising bumph, models, corpses and objects that mutate into the spectacular. Grouped into categories, her works are artificial still lifes, parodies, deconstructions or commentaries drawn and painted in watercolour or gouache. One of her pieces, "My mother before she became my mother", sold for $2,000,000 in 2011.
She is currently based in Amsterdam where she continues her artistic work. Dumas’ “The Image as Burden” exhibition was housed at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam from September 2014 to January 2015.
She is one of the great painters of her generation, an artist who centres the human body and human psychological valour, painting her subjects from the cradle to the grave. The cycle of life illustrates her ideas on the social, the sexual and the racial. She keeps up appearances without conclusion, with brush strokes so faint and light of touch they are almost hidden and perhaps more dramatic for that. Dumas borrows images and expresses them “otherly”, making them confusing within the confines of a dark terrain. Her graphology and explicit language can be understood from the titles she gives her work, which generally is portraits, as well as nudes one would swear were blushing at their own exposure being contemplated. Dumas says of her art: “What is at stake and what matters is not the medium an artist uses or the subject matter but his or her motivation, which have become suspect.”
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Ángeles Blanco
A camera, a prop and herself were all the raw materials Cindy Sherman needed to add her name to the roll call of great photographers of the second half of the 20th century … although she considers herself a visual artist whose medium is photography rather than a photographer per se.
What's unique about this artist is that not only does she use her lens to capture staged images that are striking and highly unusual in themselves but that she uses herself in her compositions and thereby embodies her intended message.
Born in New Jersey in 1954, Cynthia Morris Sherman felt no artistic leanings until at Buffalo University where she began to paint but soon realised that this wasn’t her thing and about which she says: “ ... What can I say? There I was, knocking myself out copying other art but then it hit me that the best and only way I could realise my ideas was with a camera.” And, indeed, it was in photography that she found her calling and has since become one of the most outstanding photographers of her time.
Her earliest photographs, arguably the most representative of her work, soon captured the public’s imagination. Between 1977 y 1980 she produced the "Untitled Film Stills" series of self-portraits posing as typically female clichés from a patriarchal society (hooker, housewife, drug addict, dancer, termagant). These black and white images bring to mind film stills from the 40’s and 50’s. To see them is to recall Hitchcock, Visconti and Truffault, to think how familiar they seem and ask oneself if they might be from an old film noir or Italian Neorealism movie. Since the very beginning, Sherman has never wanted to title her works so they are known only by their inventory number and it is up to the viewer to assign a meaning to each one.
Sherman has no qualms about resorting to artifice, both of expression and in preparation, to sum up a whole narrative in one single picture, leaving it to our own imagination to invent the story behind it.
And, seemingly, it all stems from her love of fancy dress since childhood although she can't tell if that was from boredom, as therapy or simply a fascination with make-up. What happened was that she had started playing with costumes and make-up in the privacy of her own home until, encouraged by her university friend and fellow New York artist Robert Longo, she made the decision to immortalise her "performances" on camera.
Although she doesn't consider her work feminist as such, her entire oeuvre over the last 40 years does explore myriad female stereotypes. At the start of the 80’s, wanting to draw attention to the prolific use of women as sex symbols in magazines and on television, she produced the "Centerfolds" series, posing as if for a double-page spread in a man's magazine.
All of her work contains a message which sometimes means her having to resort to images that are gut-wrenching. “Disasters”, “Fairy Tales” and “Disgust Pictures” are pieces that, by the most abject means, (namely entrails, vomit, mutations and horror figures), flag up the changes that our society is undergoing, our descent into a ferocious consumerism devouring itself.
In “History Portraits”, Sherman returns to self-portraiture only this time in colour, and revisiting Renaissance and Baroque paintings, recreating both male and female characters and media darlings of the moment. Her aim is to demystify the personalities worshipped by an obsessed society whether they be masterpieces of the art world or celebrities of stage and screen.
Sherman appears in the majority of her pieces because she likes to work alone and do everything by herself, coupled with the fact that hiring models can turn out to be harder work than it's worth ... she tried it once and it was an experience she won't be repeating. She agrees that it's partly for the freedom working by herself affords her but also possibly down to shyness. Disguising oneself as someone else can be liberating and, although it's her face and body one sees, it's deliberately not the essence of her which is why, if ever an image resembles the real life her too much, she scraps it and takes another. She has also experimented with still lifes in which she doesn't appear. These, however, lack the full force of her other work in which she does. And the truth is that collectors after a work by Sherman want it with her in it and are prepared to pay exorbitant amounts for the acquisition. Her Untitled #96 sold at auction for nearly $4, 000, 000 in 2013 at Christie's in New York.
This woman of a thousand faces sees herself as a blank canvas on which to depict diverse iconographies of 'woman' and the result is, in the words of Eva Respini, the curator who organised Sherman's retrospective at the MoMA in 2013, "an encyclopaedia of female stereotypes." Her photographs are not at all autobiographical but they do, on occasion, and by way of artificiality, appear to capture reality in all its crudeness.
As her work evolves, however, so Sherman replaces herself gradually more and more with prosthetics similar to those used at medical schools. By the time she starts work on the “Sex Pictures” series, there's nothing at all left of her in them and the models appear in her place all twisted, mutilated, oozing liquids and, although we the spectators know that they're only mannequins, we're still left with a queasiness that won't quit, meaning that her aim, that of denouncing whilst depicting male violence against women, has again been achieved.
With the turn of the century, Sherman starts to incorporate digital techniques into her photography, allowing her to create garishly-coloured scenes and multi-charactered montages, as in the “Clowns” series, where it's not exactly clear whether she's parodying herself or not. Framed within opulent settings, the characters brought to life in her “Society Portraits” do not represent real people. The artist has, however, made them look somewhat familiar to us with this rallying cry against the prevailing beauty ideals of a society obsessed with youth and beauty.
Cindy Sherman, one of the most influential figures in contemporary art for some; egocentric, tacky or pretentious for others; a mockery for others still; but oozing empathy for yet more. Suffice it to say that all you have to do to get a sense of her sincerity is just watch how she holds the spectator's rapt attention in the majority of her portraits.
Or is it a challenge that she engages us with?
Only the emotional response that is triggered within each individual will have an answer and the final say on that.
(Translated from the Spanish version by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Clelia
Anselm Kiefer, one of Germany’s great living artists and son of an art teacher, was born in Donaueschingen in 1945 but spent his childhood in Rastatt, later studying art in Freiburg im Breisgau. He studied under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys and showed great promise from an early age, but he also studied Law and French. His beginnings in the art world were via happenings and installations; it wasn’t in fact until the 70s when he began painting.
Kiefer’s genius is best seen in his matiérisme form of art, where he confronts the past head-on, and in particular certain subjects that are still taboo from the perspective of German Nazi history.
His famous painting “Margarethe” represents poet Paul Celan’s experiences in concentration camps, which the painter gleaned from Celan’s poems.
During the 70s, Kiefer began to emphasize the mysticism of the Jewish and German communities through works which contained specific symbols, letters, names, historical landmarks, etc., inspired in no small part by his wide-ranging literary knowledge. In his paintings one can clearly see the influence of his tutor Beuys, as well as of key philosophers such as Heidegger and Foucault. His language is characterized by historical and mythological themes, which he uses in an attempt to keep the traditions of his land alive in the present, but also to face the errors of the past and to heal the deep wounds left behind by Nazism, which explains the Hitler and Wagner references in his work, as well as the Nibelungen and Kabbalah symbolism.
He started working with thick layers of paint on wood and glass, on collages, using monochromatic colours and mixing with plaster, lead, ash, etc. In works such as The Order of the Angels (1983) he even used military equipment and scrap material.
In the 90s he travelled the world, continuing to work on such universal themes as the mind and spirit, without leaving behind his interest in history and myth. In 1993 he moved to Barjac, near Avignon, where he has since set up a studio where he can work with different materials.
Kiefer merges photography, painting, sculpture and collage in a unique way; among his best solo exhibitions are a series of works exhibited in Karlsruhe in 1969 titled Occupations, also exhibited at the Documenta event in Kassel (1977, 1982 and 1987).
He has taken part in a number of art Biennales: Venice (1980), Städtische Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf (1984) and Paris (1985). Bilbao’s Guggenheim houses a large selection of his work, but the most relevant is his retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie, consisting of 140 works ranging from 1962 to 2011. This exhibition, more than any other, allows visitors a deep-dive into the artist’s personal reality, a world both figurative and abstract at the same time.
The artist exhibited last year in A Coruña with a collection of his sculptures and paintings, together with videos about the artist’s work by Tino Calabuig and a book publication on his career.
His work is visionary: he often pays tribute to German thinkers, poets and philosophers through historical resources and theatrical techniques, aided by temporal perspective. His interpretations are magnificent and very different to those of other painters. His overarching belief is in the dialogue between Man and history, and his mission is to revitalize art while facing up to the horror lived by his people, reconciling it with the past.
His next exhibition will take place this September in UK — the Royal Academy will host a retrospective of his works, including illustrations, watercolours, sculptures, books, photographs, installations and of course paintings.
Anselm Kiefer is a masterful creator, highly articulate in art, an intellectual who is able to communicate a message in each one of his history-laden pieces, with all the ambition of the greatest Masters of art.
- Written by Clelia
John Currin was born in 1962 in Boulder, Colorado. He studied art in the United States at a number of different art schools.
His figurative style of painting unapologetically focuses on human sexuality and often on gestures and poses. He at once admires and transforms the work of the great Masters, and his approach to femininity is overtly satirical and subtly provocative.
His broad knowledge of 19th-century forms of painting — in terms of colour, composition and overall aesthetic — by French and Renaissance artists can be seen in his work, as well as his references to a wide variety of artistic movements.
The artist’s work represents a fascinating dialogue between contemporary and high culture, comfortably mixing painting with popular magazines and models while deforming the female body. These are clearly bourgeois works which play on the mix between irony and 80s sentimentality. In the female portraits in particular, the influence of Cranach and Italian mannerism is evident.
Currin’s fascination with body cult, social hypocrisy and sexual desire is present in works such as “Thanksgiving” (2003), where moral freedom is portrayed in the faces of three women feasting: a reference to modern society’s vulgarity within a scene of great beauty.
In the past he has participated in collective shows together with other great painters in New York’s Whitney Museum and also in London’s Whitechapel gallery, but his first solo exhibition was “Mid-Career Retrospective” at the MCA in Chicago, consisting of works from the 90s to the present day which subsequently made their way to London’s Serpentine Gallery.
Currin’s style has been called misogynistic and pornographic, but that’s not stopped his paintings from enjoying huge commercial success.
In “The Dogwood Thieves” (2010), displayed in the Gagosian Gallery, the bright red ribbon is a clear example of the sharpness of his vision — although Currin faithfully represents the details of life, the end image is almost unnatural, and it’s precisely these small natural/unnatural details which carve him apart from other painters of his generation. Each minute detail gives off a grotesque, absurd effect, which at the same time transmits to the viewer the artist’s great skill.
Another of his important works is “The Women of Franklin Street” (2009): the sexually explicit painting represents three loosely dressed women — the one in the middle clearly displaying a sadistic demeanour through her almost frozen facial expression — in a scene that somewhat furthers the idea of the female form as object.
Admittedly, some of his paintings seem to be mocking society’s moral values, but for all of their pornographic content, they are still technically excellent pictorial works.
Currin is often criticized for being a masculine artist whose representations of women are simply of bad taste, yet the controversy and different interpretations of his creative work only serve to heighten his appeal and interest among the public.
His paintbrush is provocative, yet it manages to skillfully make art out of the tasteless. He combines the traditional with the contemporary in his drive to show us ugly, grotesque figures, without judgement, with a mix of sensuality and common vulgarity.
“I've always liked things that pretend they're sensationalistic entertainment yet have a hidden or deeper structure — something that's absolutely mediocre but perfect, like a soft rock song that's perfectly memorable, that has this incredibly long life and persistence, that's so average but crystalline.” John Currin.