In the tumult of today’s world, we need a language to understand it as well as escape from it, Zen tranquility as well as Wagnerian force. Picasso, according to Dore Ashton, is supposed to have once asked (rhetorically), “What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes of he’s a painter, ears if he’s a musician or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he’s a poet.” And then he answered his own question, “Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world…”
Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings are part of a painterly series that portrays a world without darkness, conflict or disaster. It represents a world possible in sunny, peaceful, affluent Southern California. They can be can be seen as the achievement of the “pleasing” part of Picasso’s quote. Kiefer, growing up in the ruins of post-war Germany, had no such refuge. He holds up a mirror to Germany, and, by extension, to the world, showing us our wounded body and broken spirit, and reminds us of the suffering that we have both caused and experienced. His works are secular altarpieces from a 20th century Gruenwald with the body of history’s suffering victims nailed to the cross of war, rather than the body of Christ. His landscapes evoke the battlefield after the war, barren, with mysterious fires burning in the muck but with the distant hope of redemption through a search for our place within the cosmos.
1. Dore Ashton. (Ed). Picasso on art. A Selection of Views (New York, Viking Press, 1972), 149.