To write simply of 'the woodcuts of Anselm Kiefer' is to mislead: Kiefer seldom makes prints that stand on their own and a woodcut is just one of the many ingredients that go into his multimedia paintings. The qualities of a woodcut may be unique and its conotations specific but its status in Kiefer' work is comparable to that of a photograph, a piece of clothing, a fern, a sunflower, some weeds, hay, grass, gravel, ash or dirt. All are incorporated into 'paintings' whose iconographic complexity is matched by their formal richness. But this does not mean that Kiefer's engagement with printmaking is anything less than serious. Nor that it is an esoteric or peripheral concern. Printmaking is central to the making and meaning of Kiefer's work of the last quarter of a century.
This essay, the first on the subject, traces the many uses Kiefer makes of the woodcut. For the first time it analyses Kiefer's paintings through an assessment of their incorporation of woodcut, proposing that the use made of this particular print-medium has had a direct baring on the development of his whole iconography. It concentrates on the use Kiefer makes of woodcuts in his paintings, but where appropriate also includes the artist's unique hand-made books. The medium used is usually lime-wood which Kiefer admires for its softness, and which he works on with tools inherited from his grandfather, a carpenter, or purchased recently from an old tool-maker in Paris.
I address Kiefer's woodcuts from his first use of the medium during 1973-74 to those made during 1994. In order to recognise the ways in which Kiefer has explored certain themes over years and even decades, it is guided not only by chronology (based on the first use of an image) but also identifies key series which are grouped by theme. In this way it is possible to address the ways in which the same print may reappear over many years in many different contexts, assuming new layers of meaning and to explore more deeply the evolution of themes and imagery, interlocking technique and iconography.
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