Exhibition: Anselm Kiefer Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot

I first found out about this exhibition from a Guardian article which interviews Kiefer on his seemingly random conceptual drive behind the landscape paintings he makes. Reading the article I was thinking ‘here is an artist who ties scientific and religious ideas to landscape painting… I NEED TO SEE THIS WORK!’.

Sadly I never got around to seeing the show, I only got a glimpse of the main corridor of the exhibition when I turned up at the White Cube to find it was still closed for the holidays. This main corridor was lined with these floor to ceiling monolithic works, with earthy backgrounds and thick wire encased in glass, with mathematical formulae written on the glass. The long corridor felt spiritual, with a great heavy atmosphere to it. It was entrancing.

Kiefer has ‘tried to bring together theories of seemingly extraneous principles from different cultures and histories’, so that complex scientific theory is connected with subject matter from ancient mythology. In so doing, Kiefer makes visual the idea that, ‘Everything is connected: the missing letters, string theory, the Norns, the Gordian knot.’

https://whitecube.com/exhibitions/exhibition/anselm_kiefer_bermondsey_2019

Looking at images of the show on White Cube’s website I can see how Kiefer translates a jumble of ideas into chaotic works. The only order in the pieces seems to be that they are predictably flat, that the works take the expected and orderly form of a painting.

At White Cube, all of these topics are somehow connected, though the result often resembles a kind of organised chaos theory,

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/nov/25/anselm-kiefer-when-i-make-a-truly-great-painting-then-i-feel-real

I listened to a podcast interview with Kiefer on the exhibition, which highlighted how engrossed Kiefer is in his work, and the subtle connections between ideas.

Reading, listening and thinking about this exhibition over the Christmas break has led me to embrace content and ideas that I might previously have labelled irrelevant. I think this was coming anyway, but I am conscious of it now. Subjects such as sci-fi, poetry, architecture and history. All things that have been loosely connected to my practice, but things that I now want to consciously embrace and immerse myself in, to see where that leads my work.

Finishing painting this new (and existentialist) idea

I didn’t have the patience to finish this painting tomorrow! So I went ahead and worked on it wet. This wet on wet process will have had an affect on the look of the finished painting, which is interesting. It’ll have that glossy, visceral look.

I wanted to cover some of the bottom part of the painting with the background colour. So I used two big brushes to do this, one to apply the paint quite thickly and one to blend with no paint on the brush. I ended up blending the paint so that the gestural brushmarks blend seamlessly with the totally blurred blue. This is interesting! The viewer doesn’t know what is appearing from where. A close up:

Finished painting:

I added this final red mark in this curving shape. I mixed the paint with lots of liquin so that the paint underneath would be minimally smudged. This curving shape is great. Moving inwardly it acts as some sort of shifting frame for the mass of brush marks.

If I had more time, I would have waited for these marks to dry and added more blue background to cover the bottom bit of the mass of brush marks, to mesh the background with the mass a little better. But perhaps the fact that I don’t have time to do that is a good thing! It means I can’t overwork the piece.

This painting has been really successful as a first colour attempt at this existential idea of stepping outside of my lived experience.

The painting is very much inline with the larger charcoal sketch on the bottom right of this photo of my studio wall:

They both deal with the idea of a recorded lived experience being witnessed as an external viewer.

I am really excited about pushing this composition forward next term. I’m thinking it might be worth looking at the Surrealist painters? Since they paint objects into imaginary landscapes?
I am most excited about the digital edit I did of the painting and the sculpture:

The way the line of the studio floor marks the horizon line in the landscape, and the structure appearing and disappearing from the brushstroke mass is interesting. There is something about this edit and the painting, and the idea of the structure being photographed in a blank space to mimic a larger landscape (when there is nothing around the structure to define scale) that is an exciting starting point for next term.

Finished painting

Painting this new (and existentialist) idea continued

I am thinking of this painting as one that has many final states – captured in photographs and then reworked to keep exploring. Although the physical painting is only one final image, the other states will be recorded here in photographs.
This is a really FREE way of painting. I far less worried about spoiling what I have already done, because I am recording it before reworking it.

^ Next layer with massive dry brush in Gerhard Richter style, impersonating the squeegee marks he makes. These are surprisingly difficult to do! Ideally I would then have waited for this layer to dry before moving on, but I am limited on time so on I go!

I did a lot here. Being very playful with marks. Half consciously thinking back to Howard Hodgkin’s work and his playful array of brushstrokes.
I was thinking about brushstroke size here, adding the small brushstrokes at the top of the canvas, like I did on my past paintings.

Denser blue hazy background put in, which is much stronger. And I added some green! Because that colour was lacking.
With these layers I was thinking about where the ground of the painting is. Trying to deal with that here with the curving horizontal line that wraps around the funnel of brushstrokes. Is this the marker for where the ground is? And anything below that is what.. underground?!

I am realising this composition and experiment is very directly influenced by Amy Sillman’s painting Get the Moon. I am making my own work based on that, something I have never felt the need to do so intently before.

Adding ‘screens’ to the painting with big lines of paint. The blue marks being intentionally dry and so semi transparent. To add depth and cover things up. The beige marks at the bottom covering up the stuff below this strange ground line I put in.

So I’m thinking about my paintings from an outsider’s perspective. The structure might sit in the painting, or it might not. But it can act in this photograph as a representation of what I am painting.

I am essentially painting this:

The structure with the lived experience painting on the inside. And I am painting the outside, looking at this from afar.

It’s very helpful to have this image. I am imagining this in my head based on this model! It’s like I’m adding special effects to this basic model, to create the painting. Like this:

Editing this image helps me to figure out what I’m painting. I’m excited to see where this train of thought goes when I pick it back up next term!

All think it needs now is the same colour as the background applied opaquely on top of some of the lower marks. Am I going to wait for the paint to dry a little first?

Book: The Art of Looking Up

I saw this article on The Guardian Art weekly email and immediately knew I needed to read the book! I now have the physical book. Here are my notes from it:

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING

As humans we are hierarchical and believe that the higher up something is, the greater its importance, and we consequentially tend to desire things that are tantalizingly out of reach. As humanity we have looked up at the sky above us to understand our place in the universe

McCormack, C., 2019, The Art of Looking Up, White Lion Publishing: London, P.7.

the sky binds us to our planet but also presents a boundary that we long to break through. Looking up was led by a desire for transcendence beyond ourselves and this is, perhaps, why it is here that we have long projected our religious, cultural and social beliefs and philosophies.

This might also explain why the blank spaces of our buildings – the domes, the vaults, the ceilings – have proved irresistable to emblazon and decorate; they act as a version of the sky that we can control and occupy to our own design. The words are linked linguistaically, after all. The English word ‘ceiling’ is influenced by the Latin term caelum meaning ‘sky’ of ‘heaven’.

McCormack, C., 2019, The Art of Looking Up, White Lion Publishing: London, P.7.

In 3000BCE we worshipped beings in the ground. Then..

The great sky-god cults emerged at the beginning of the Indo-European age and their dominance has not waned.

McCormack, C., 2019, The Art of Looking Up, White Lion Publishing: London, P.7.

looking up fosters aspirations of immortality. The ceiling is an aggrandizing space for those who have the means to occupy it in visual form.

McCormack, C., 2019, The Art of Looking Up, White Lion Publishing: London, P.7.

^ I like this idea, of a space being ‘occupied’ by power, ideas or belief.

This book is prompting some unplanned experiments in the studio:

My big paintings are so planned and thought out, it’s refreshing to paint in the studio with no idea where it’s going. I have a feeling the work I’m starting is going to involve lots of layers and reworking and some time between painting layers – very different to my usual way of painting!

Regardless of race, geography or creed, all gods occupy the sky.

McCormack, C., 2019, The Art of Looking Up, White Lion Publishing: London, P.13.

^ Looking up is universal, across cities, countries, cultures, languages.

The images in this book are so inspiring. Some of the paintings (it seems to be more the Renaissance ceiling paintings) deal with such vast ideas of distance and height, and also vast and great frameworks of belief. Like on P.135.

This book is a vivid form of inspiration that I will pick up and look through often.

Artist: Gerhard Richter

The book Godfrey, M., Serota, Nicholas & Tate Modern, 2011. Gerhard Richter : panorama, London: Tate Publishing.

Pictures by Gerhard Richter are neither documentation nor fiction. Nevertheless, they depict human life

Godfrey, M., Serota, Nicholas & Tate Modern, 2011. Gerhard Richter : panorama, London: Tate Publishing, P.6.

It’s interesting that when you put a cluster of paintbrush marks on the canvas, if the marks are condensed enough, the eye sees it as a sculptural object. Such as in the painting by Richter on P.46, Table, 1962. Is that just my eyes?!

When you put in a very soft blurred background with no evidence of paint brush marks, and then add very quick marks on top that are directly made from gesture and movement and not touched again, these marks look like they are floating in a space. Shown in the painting Coloured Grey [Bunt auf Grau], 1968, oil on canvas, P.98.
This is to do with what I always seem to go back to, that I first overheard in a conversation between artists at a gallery when I was 18, that the contrast between two visual painting extremes accentuates each side! And does something.

P.100 the painting Untitled (Stroke) [Ohne Titel (Strich)] 1968, oil on canvas. This incredibly gestural mark next to the blurry background looks like the brush mark is some great structural shape in space. The length and height of the canvas makes the shape seem very great. What would happen if I added blurryness, in the form of gradients?, into my work next to the brushstrokes I am already doing? Would it make the gestural brush strokes look more sculptural and like they are in three dimensional space?

Gerhard Richter is an excellent painter, looking at his work in depth for the first time, I realise he reminds the viewer of what to notice in the real world. He depicts something so on the brink of reality, and yet also so far from it, that it makes me want to go and stare at the real world!


Gerhard Richter in the interview at the start of the book, talking about his abstract paintings:

We describe them as more abstract, because they bear so little resemblance to reality but, nevertheless, they are exactly that: they present us with a picture of something, regardless of whether it could exist or not.

P.20

When abstract painting one could either use this to their advantage or not. A painter could embrace the fact that the viewer will subconsciously find a picture in the painting, or they could try and get away from it. In my work I embrace and try to use this to my advantage – painting abstractly with the intention that the finished result, even though the marks are truly abstract, will resemble a landscape.

abstraction. It’s so mysterious, like an unknown land.

P.20

I like that a lot: abstraction is ‘like an unknown land’.

Some later abstract paintings also started in a similar way with constructive lines and vistas, architectonic, or like science fiction.

P.21

I am becoming more and more interested in science fiction as an influence to art. I want to rewatch 2001: A Space Odyssey. I have watched that film and read the book and was blown away by both. Perhaps it is influencing/ will influence my work.

NS: But painting is not about efficiency.

GR: Actually it is, in the sense that it allows us to find a form for a complicated idea, that’s to say, to make something chaotic communicable, it is efficient.

P.21

This is a wonderful idea for framing painting. My most recent ideas for painting – the existential stuff, are very much about condensing a chaotic idea into a communicable painting.

There was something appealing about it [Double Pane of Glass, 1977, P.137]. The space between.

P.23

^ Space between things being more interesting than the things themselves. That’s an interesting idea.

Richter discovered the squeegee with the painting Abstract Painting [Abstraktes Bild] ,1980, P.127.
The yellow marks across the canvas is like flat screen that blocks the depth of the scene in the painting behind. I want to use this mark marking in my work, to use screens as a way to cover things from the viewer, to then exaggerate what isn’t hidden.


The reason I was drawn to Richter’s paintings were his abstracted landscape and completely abstract paintings, that I came across by chance, I can’t remember how. They just struck me as so relevant to my work, that I was surprised I had never come acorss them before, or known Richter without knowing about this series of his.

Abstract Painting [Abstraktes Bild], 1984, oil on canvas, 50×70, P.125. The blue, soft, blended background and the muddy green bottom suggest a landscape. The paint marks he’s making are so similar to my work. He is blending the paint in places, which accentuates the gestural marks. This idea of blended marks that are removed from the painting process, next to the gestural marks that remind one of the painting process, is something Richter seems to do often, and it’s something I would like to try in the painting I am working on currently.

Pages 128-132, 147-9, 154-5 filled with abstract paintings that repeat this idea of blurred vs gestural. I have looked at these images a lot and noticed the architectural qualities of them. The planes he created in space, the movement of wind or energy through scattered marks.
The squeegee seems like an effective tool for playing with planes, screens and depth. I could try using this tool next term.

Two oil paintings both called Abstract Painting [Abstraktes Bild] and both done in 1977 on Pp.140-1. They remind me of what I think my paintings would look like if the paintings were 3D and you walked right up to the brushstrokes.

June [Juni], 1983, oil on canvas, P.155. Reminds me of Amy Sillman’s painting Get the Moon. The blurry background in this painting is interesting.

Overall

I am going to keep referring back to Richter’s work. I would like to see some of it in person as well! Some of his work in at the Tate Modern in London, which I could see over Christmas, I will look to see if there is any more of his stuff in London that I don’t know about.

His work both aesthetically (the abstract works) and conceptually feels familiar to me. Reading about his ideas lets me see what is important to me. And increasingly, sci-fi is becoming something that is intriguing me – the concepts in sci-fi of vast spaces and huge amounts of time, all just a bit puzzling.

Hanging paintings for assessment

I realise that I have been hanging my paintings a little too low in the past. Since the work is about height and scale they need to be hung so that the viewer needs to look up at them slightly, to enforce the sense of height and scale and the experience of looking up. This idea also goes back to the first cathedral painting I saw in Edinburgh when I first started painting religious interiors, this painting was hung so high up that at my eye level I was looking at the bottom fifth of the painting. This was probably partly due to the great height of the room the painting was being hung in, and my studio is not that tall! So I don’t want to be too extreme.

Too high. Looked a bit ridiculous.
Current height. Might bring right painting down a bit, still looks a bit too high and ridiculous, but I’ll sit with it for a bit.
This is how the painting looks when I stand in front of it and look up.
It’s quite nice because you have to look up at the arch of the structure at the front of the painting, as you would if the structure was real.
Brought the right painting down a couple of inches, this looks right when you are standing in front of it and fits proportionally with the left painting, but it’s high enough that you still have to look up to see the structure. Sorted.

Painting this new (and existential) idea

I was reading the book ‘The Art of Looking Up’ (blog post on it to follow) and it really makes me want to paint. Mid reading it I got some oil proof paper, stapled it to the walls and got out my oil paint! I am going off the monochrome work I have done thinking about Amy Sillman’s painting ‘Get the Moon’ (2006) and stepping out of my own recorded lived experience.

I am painting with oil paints thinned with turpentine. I want to work in a way I haven’t for so long: layers of oils with gaps of drying time between sessions, not painting with any intentions for the outcome, but painting to play!

This is stage one:

Since the first stage I have been reading about Gerhard Richter and thinking about blurred gradient backgrounds in contrast to gestural and immediate brushstrokes:

So I added a gradient background, using a big dry brush to blend things seamlessly – I have not painted like this in YEARS! I then took this big brush and swept across what I did before. It now looks disconnected to the viewer. Playing with this sweeping semi transparent brushstroke as a way to make distance between the viewer and the scene behind; a way of adding depth to the landscape(?). This works feels like I am branching into surrealist territory, but I don’t really know if that’s true because I don’t know much about Surrealists at all. I could look up some images.
I also like the way the gradient background has covered some of the thicker brushstrokes from the first layer but you can still the ghost of them because of the texture.

I guess I am playing with ideas of transparency in this painting, which I am beginning to see was intended in my practice! All part of me just following my practice as it flows to places I don’t expect.

Now I wait for this layer to dry.

This artist in the inspiration I know realise for having concentrated blue colour in a strip along the centre of my painting. This artist paints woodlands, and a lot of the time has this strip along the centre. Foresty influence identified!