(German, b.1945) is a contemporary painter and sculptor. Born in southern Germany in 1945 during the final months of World War II, Kiefer’s life has been characterized a post-war identity from the very start. He studied law and linguistics before deciding to pursue art in 1966. He gained critical attention in 1969 for his series of provocative works entitled Occupations
, in which Kiefer photographed himself standing in iconic European sites, such as the Roman Coliseum, wearing a military outfit and making a Nazi salute. This is an early example of a pervasive theme in Kiefer’s art: the attempt to reconcile Germany’s fascist past, an entirely taboo topic in the country at the time.
In the early 1970s, Kiefer studied under controversial German performance artist Joseph Beuys
(German, 1921–1986) at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art; Beuys’s work with unusual natural materials and interest in mysticism heavily influenced Kiefer’s own artistic production. Intertwining history, culture, religion, and myth, Kiefer began exploring archetypal figures from German history in his work, as well as creating heavily textured painted landscapes depicting barren, somber fields and forests, which evoke scenes of concentration camps and allude to the broken nature of Germany’s post-war identity. His works incorporate plant elements, straw, lead, and other materials reflecting his interest in alchemy, ritual, and the fundamental elements of the earth. In later works, Kiefer shifts his focus from works contemplating Germany’s past to a concentration on universal themes of religion, the cosmos, and ancient myth, in mediums as diverse as painting, installation art, photography, and sculptural books. His recent paintings are heavily textured and of a monumental scale, and are sometimes compared to the Abstract Expressionist works of Jackson Pollock
(American, 1912–1956). Kiefer’s dense, unique compositions reflect a powerful synthesis of ideas—spanning history, culture, nature, religion, everyday reality and universal belief—marking him a preeminent contemporary German artist. He currently lives and works in southern France.