Anselm Kieffer’s work is transitory, made with materials that decay or are otherwise impermanent. To make a study with these characteristics in mind, I chose plaster of Paris, cigarette ashes, and powdered dipping tobacco as my media. The ashes are a cool color and the tobacco is warm, together they should make a statement on mortality that is interesting to consider. I put the study on a piece of unprimed canvas so the image wouldn’t be too sharp. First I laid on a layer of plaster of Paris in the shape of a window alcove – a rectangle with a curved top. I them pressed pieces of thick string into the plaster in hopes of making lines reminiscent of the barbed wire in a previous work. I wanted to introduce a feeling of stricture. I smeared some matte medium along the bottom two-thirds of the piece and floated some of the cigarette ashes down upon it. I added a little of the tobacco to see if it would bleed into the moisture. It didn’t, but it provided weight to the right-hand side of the piece. After letting this dry for a few hours, I added a wash of tobacco juice that I had made by putting a big blob of the dip into a jar of water. With a housepainting brush I washed a line from the left, over the top, and down the right side. The juice pooled in places and I let it run, planning to let the layer dry and add another. I went over part of the line with some of the matte medium and sprinkled some dry tobacco in it. I also made a zig-zag line of the medium down the middle of the work and sprinkled on some more ashes. I wanted to see what would happen when some of the ashes were blown off and some were held down by the clear layer of medium. I was hoping that the layers of ash would build up various value shades.‘ Lifting up the edges of the canvas made the tobacco juice – medium build up on the canvas in rivulets. To assert a little control over the design I spread a thick layer of plaster down the right side and embedded pieces of string at regular intervals. I will leave the string in the plaster this time, not knowing whether it will be secure or fall off leaving its imprint behind. The string soaked up the tobacco juice and turned a rusty color.
Rather than an alcove or window, the piece took on the aspect of a tombstone. This being too trite when using tobacco products, I wanted to amend the shape and get away from funereal thoughts. I smeared matte medium along the lower left side, sprinkled on ashes and stried the mixture with fork tines, escaping from the left border and continuing the dark blue-grey shape further to the left.
The image looked complete, but I had a though: what if I set it on fire?! Fire would act on the drawing in a manner different than the materials I had been adding to the surface of the canvas. So I set the lower left corner on fire.
This just wasn’t enough burned canvas. I liked it so well that I decided to burn the entire left side. Aside from introducing another element into the drawing, burning the left-hand side would take the image out of the middle of the canvas and introduce tension. It would also, I hoped, get rid of the tombstone aspect by being a strong counterpoint to the heavily plastered right side.