Actually a lot of what he did was a bit obscure or just plain odd, often involving a good deal of felt and animal fat - a legacy of his experiences in the Second World War, when he was shot down over the Crimea and rescued by Tartar tribesmen who wrapped him in these magic substances, so saving his life.
The themes of his art were big ones: life and death and the fragmentation of the modern world, though equally he had a deep sense of local customs and smaller scale mythologies.
Beuys has had a powerful influence in the world of conceptual art and a new exhibition at the Royal Academy should help to convince a wider public of his place at the heart of the 20th century. The subject is his drawings, known as "The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland", 456 of them made over 40 years in a mixture of watercolour, floor paint, gold leaf, blood and, of course, fat. Some of them are even rather beautiful.
The Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-300 8000) Thur to 16 Sept
Richard InglebyReuse content