Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) is a German painter and sculptor, his paintings stood out at a time where interest was lacking in painting. His work tends to explore German history and myth as well as the Holocaust. His work is confrontational and forced acknowledgment of Germany’s past which at the time was avoided. Kiefer is considered to be part of the Neo-Expressionist movement. His interest in mythology has led Kiefer to include books as a subject and incorporating text into his paintings, which includes quotes from poems, books, slogans and the names of influential people. His paintings are created with heavy impasto and a mix of unusual media for their symbolic elements such as straw, earth, tree roots and even lead. The imagery Kiefer uses is symbolic and diverse, including motifs, sigils, occult icons, architectural aspects and landscapes to provoke an emotional response from the viewer.
The artist often builds his imagery on top of photographs, layering his massive canvases with dirt, lead, straw, and other materials that generate a “ground” that reads literally of the earth itself. Within these thick, impastoed surfaces Kiefer embeds textual or symbolic references to historic figures or places; these become encoded signals through which Kiefer invokes and processes history.
The title of this piece, Varus, refers to a battle in the Teutoburg forest, when a deserter from the Roman army in alliance with his native Germanic people, wiped out the Romans under the command of Varus, who fell on his own sword after witnessing his people be massacred. The names of some of the people involved in the battle are written on the canvas, as well as other names from German history and literature, who all played a role in the development of German national identity.