Illustrated companion

'Lilith' with its companion 'Barren Landscape' (in a private collection) marks the appearance of a specific new type of subject for Kiefer, the cityscape. These two works were made after the artist's visit to the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil which has seen explosive and uncontrolled growth in the past decade. He perceived the city as absolutely chaotic, with all systems breaking down and an ubiquitous sense of roughness and violence. The scene that emerges in the centre of 'Lilith' from the thickly encrusted paint, is derived from a photograph taken by Kiefer from a skyscraper, the Italian Building, looking down into a canyon of other tall buildings. The downward angle of the view is extremely vertiginous, expressing Kiefer's sense that not only Sao Paulo but the whole world is falling, out of control, because of what man has done to the planet and to his fellow humans. The city is seen as disintegrating, its image in the painting is hard to read, emerging as if from a dense haze. Kiefer created this effect by adding a final layer of dust and earth, and by burning parts of the surface to change the colours, also producing ash. As well as creating visually the partial obliteration of the image, these substances stand as material symbols of destruction, death and decay, evoking the words of the Christian burial rite. The colour of the painting is the colour of the earth. Kiefer spent two years working on 'Lilith' and its companion. At the beginning the image of the city was quite detailed but as he worked it became more and more obscured, culminating in the burning, and resulting in the present extraordinary surface of the painting, suggesting the aftermath of a volcanic eruption: Kiefer presents us with the image of the city and with what it will inexorably become and he does so, not illusionistically but by a literal transformation. The tangle of copper wires, a vision of underground networks exploded onto the surface, signifies to Kiefer the chaotic breakdown of communications. The title is written across the top centre of the painting. Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, was the first wife of Adam, but was so evil that Adam could not live with her and she became the Devil's wife. She appears as a minor cult figure in Mesopotamia where she was a goddess of death and the night, depicted with wings and taloned feet and accompanied by owls. She is also known as a vampire. She appears in Goethe's Faust where the poet warns particularly 'Beware of her hair, for she excels / All women in the magic of her locks / And when she twines them round a young man's neck / She will not ever set him free again.' A hank of real hair, said by the artist to refer to that of Lilith, appears in the companion painting although not in 'Lilith' itself. The copper wire in 'Lilith' is, however, evocative of hair.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.281