'Look, I've brought you something from the Turkish greengrocer in the Mecklenburg Street! A real heavyweight.' My wife came from shopping to the studio. 'Is this something for a still life?'
Well, I would have to cut it up, stage it and replace the many still lifes with melons from the history of painting. The picture should play in the today.
So, I set up a small stage in the studio, waited for the evening light and sliced the slightly elongated watermelon.
Somehow that looked brutal.
The slicing of a watermelon awakens strange associations. The pulp gives something organic. Setting a melon as a metaphor for a brutal injury tempted me.
Please nothing sweetish. Although I really appreciate the thirst-quenching sweetness of these melons. The hidden vitamin A is good for the eyes. I like that as a painter.
It should also provide beautiful skin. I'm afraid this melon will be late for me.
May your antioxidant protect me from cancer, so that I can continue painting for a few more decades.
Domenica Niehoff, Germany's most prominent prostitute, had died at the age of 63 years. On 12th February 2009, this was a news item in the Tagesschau program.
A few days later I saw a ‣ funeral procession from my studio window in Hamburg. The cortege turned to her memory in the Herbertstrasse, in which she was once commercially active.
Photographer Guenter Zint, of whom there are impressive Domenica photographs, carried a painted portrait of her. Many celebrities lined up. In the procession, I noticed a gentleman dressed in white. I had never seen him before. On the following day, a photo of him appeared in the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt on the subject of a funeral procession. 'You like him, or!' smirked my wife.
It took years until I saw him again.
Summer 2014. Unmistakable, there he sits, the dandy in white. What a bird of paradise. Like us, he had a late breakfast at lunchtime in front of the Café Liebling in St. Pauli. I did not dare to speak to him, but I watched him for a long time. In the evening I discovered a film about him on the media library of the North German Broadcasting NDR. Then I found his phone number on the net, called him, and we arranged to have dinner at the Cuneo of Franca, whom I had just portrayed. It was an interesting evening. I told him that painting is a great excuse to meet interesting or strange people. 'Not correct!' he replied. 'It's a reason!' I liked that.
The following day, when I wanted to do my photo sketches, it was raining in Hamburg. So, we went with our photo equipment to Heidi, our favorite hairdresser at the old cattle slaughterhouse, and built there in the salon the headlights. Heidi thought that was amusing and Goetz had a lot of patience with me.
Sometimes, as a painter, you brood over a portrait for a long time. In this case, it took more than ten years from the idea to the completion. Should anyone ask themselves what makes Goetz professional - Goetz Barner is jewelry designer in St. Pauli.
In the last days of completion, I heard music from the ‣ phonograph in the studio. Among others, I have listened to the following song.
Since two years we own a garden. At the beginning it was a real threat. A sort of monster around the house. Today, it is a real pleasure. Never I would have thinking that this high-maintenance piece of earth would influence my painting.
Dandelions are somewhat fascinating. Blossom and decay are standing directly side by side. Full of hope, its fading refers to the next spring. In my childhood the floating seeds, which cover amazing long distances, invited me to dream.
But dandelions are also obstinate – they do not fear asphalt or concrete. In my childhood I often drew them.
Also bees love this strange plant. And what all it is able to do: The stem juice can remove warts and also ease the pain after insect bites. The tea of its roots is delicious.
For the ones it is weed which has to be removed. Chemical substances or digging out deep roots. But there are others who are thinking of the ‣ Great Piece of Turf of Albrecht Duerer. And I am thinking of a tasty salad. In its leaves vitamin C and provitamin A are hiding.
Last but not least: On its stem it is possible to play music. Well, it is more a kind of trumpet noise.
Believing I was missing something, my wife and I moved from Wismar to Hamburg in 2009 for six years. Now we lived on St. Pauli, 37 meters from the Herbertstrasse. In the middle of the epicenter of German prostitution, in a loft apartment above the Hotel Hanseport corner Erichstrasse.
Despite the exorbitant bustle, it lives there like in a village. The St. Paulian has plenty of time during the day. The shops start at most in the evening and end after an eccentric night in the tiring morning. Stag parties dilute the party hype. Social cohesion is still high amongst the locals. Mentally you are compatible. Anyone who lives or works here is one of them, is part of a fast-wrecking machine. The number of the fallen is increasing. Rarely have I had the opportunity to look so deeply into our human abysses. There is easy access to residents and guests. Does such a rich, colorful painter life feel like that? Occasionally I have this feeling. That's how it was when I portrayed the 87-year-old innkeeper ‣ Erna Thomsen in Hamburg.
My wife is a port planning professional, she is a hydraulic engineer. That suits the place. We like to work and often ww work late into the night. Did you eat something? No. It is already 24 o'clock! Let's go to the Cuneo, I also like red wine. We go two streets to Franca.
Francas Cuneo is around the corner. In 1905 her grandfather Francesco Antonio Cuneo started to establish the first restaurant with Italian cuisine in Germany. At this time there were signs at houses in Hamburg saying 'Dogs and Italians stay outside!' In the early years, the restaurant was a distillation and wine shop, experiencing difficult and great times. It always remained in family ownership.
Franca leads it today in its fourth generation. The lively atmosphere in the Ristorante never arouses the dying curiosity in our eyes.
Often we sit here late after work, at night after going to the theater, meeting friends. We are happy to visit Franca. It gives us the enchanting feeling of belonging to a big family. She looks her guests in the eye and does not lose the sense of a director. One that intuitively pulls the right strings to tempt your theater stage with love. She maintains the spirit of yesteryear without bending. At the beginning she hears Paolo Contes 'Genova per noi'. The lyrics often bring tears to my eyes and I think he wrote this piece just for her. Of course he did not, but it fits 1: 1 to her and to this place. ‣ Here you can read the lyric in the Italian original.
I was immediately enthusiastic about Franca. I love strong women. And so, with tasty pasta with spinach and red wine, the desire to portray it was born.
A timid question on my part. Franca agreed. This resulted in an intense portrait, a sensually quiet.
Thank you Franca!
In 2013, I moved from Hamburg to Bremen. At that time, the fairy tale of the Bremen Town Musicians came into my mind. Their life-affirming slogan 'Something better than death you'll find everywhere!' is great.
But donkey, dog, cat and rooster never reached Bremen. The agedly A-capella-band annexed a house of robbers in the middle of the woods outside the gates of the city. Since then, they are living rent-free in the wealthy suburbs, are successful musicians at Bremen stages, use Bremen in their band name and pay no taxes in the city-state. Nevertheless, the Hanseatic Bremen likes to adorn itself with the four tax refugees of the squatter scene.
The formerly disputed bronze sculpture of the Bremen Town Musicians, made by Gerhard Marcks in the year 1953, proudly stands beside the Bremen city hall in landmark-rivalry to the Roland of Bremen. Every Asian visitor has touched her excitedly at least once.
Bremen is the smallest federal state of Germany and, already since years, Bremen is highly indebted. On this issue, I wanted to paint something. But how? Empty coffers in front of the city hall would have been trivial. I have a totally disturbed relationship to money, thus no money in the picture! And never regional or day-to-day politics.
In German, there exists the idiom 'to lose feathers', describing the situation of suffering a loss, being damaged, suffering disadvantages. Having this symbol in mind, I was looking for something related to the topic 'indebtedness of Bremen'. By chance, I stumbled upon a drawing of the great British animal painter George Stubbs. A very strange drawing, 40.6 x 56.5 cm in dimension, created in the late baroque. As if Stubbs had drawn it especially for my subject.
Suddenly, there he was, the rooster of the Bremen Town Musicians, who lost symbolically his feathers due to the huge debt burden of the town. He hurries, almost floating, on a stony path. His attitude does not give any hint on his internal condition. He did not become fat because of frustration, but remains sporty and athletic. Proud and indebted. A naked Hanseatic citizen without plumage.
I am grateful to my colleague George Stubbs, who created the preliminary drawing to my panel already around 1800. Respect. Without this, my story of indebtedness would never exist. ‣ The genesis of the painting
In December 2014, we have been in Venice and stayed on the Giudecca, the former worker's island opposite Piazza San Marco. Here, it is possible to find remains of a Venetian normal course of life. And from time to time the municipal gallery Tre Oci presents great photographic exhibitions.
There, we found the photobook 'NeoRealismo - la nuova immagine in Italia 1932-1960'. It was a time of great black and white photography. On the cover of the volume there was a photograph by Tranquillo Casiraghi - Gente della Torretta. ‣ To the photography.
Never before I saw this photo. It took my breath. Strange, I still do not understand it. This photograph deeply touched me and said to me: 'You will paint Katharina and Ulrich in a similar composition.' We bought two books, one for Katharina. She is photographer, lives only some steps away from the Tre Oci at the same Fondamente. I love her photographic oeuvre.
My idea for the picture was accepted. In such moments, I am really happy. Also Barbara, my muse and wife agreed. Probable, I will work on the panel for nine months. Until the birth of the painting I will offer everything it is asking for. Lust, love, self-doubts, passion, agility, forlornness, hope, and confidence.
Katharina's husband is a busy actor, musician and writer. It was difficult to find a date for a sitting. Six months later we arranged a meeting in a hotel in Hamburg. But there was a problem: the chosen outfit was not there. At the stopover in Brussels the airport was set out of operation by a bomb alarm and the suitcases have been still in Belgium. So, we decided to fix a new date, a relaxed meeting on the Giudecca in the next spring. In the meantime, Katharina found an appropriate wall as a setting. I just love it when the portrayed persons cooperate. Then, the painting becomes a joint production.
Fortunately, after years of grief for the death of their dog Toto, they just got a little puppy. Under the piano stool the eight weeks old Eurasier she dog Peppina was lying. She had the same hair colour like me. It was obvious: She is a part of the painting. I will paint a family portrait with three independent personalities!
On the Sunday afternoon, we took a coffee house chair named 'Kafka' and strolled through the Giudecca to the chosen crumbled wall. Sunny light spots flickered through a tree. Remains of a deep red wall paint gave the impression of dripped blood. Residents admired the little Peppina with the look of grandmothers seeing their grandchild for the first time.
After a few hours, I had got the photographic sketches I dreamt of for my live-size family portrait. What a pleasure. In the evening, we went for dinner having interesting talks full of easiness and heavy red wine. ‣ To the genesis of the painting
Once, I was almost four years old, I found, while playing in the woods, a weathered light-coloured skull covered by autumn leaves. In the evening, I proudly carried my freshly cleaned treasure home showing it to my father, who said: This was an old sow, a wild sow. What?, I yelled out. Yes, he noted, in the past it was a living wild sow.
As we lived at the edge of a forest, I had seen quite often wild sows from afar. My grandfather had told me that wild boars have large sideward teeth intended to impale children. So, I really was frightened of them. They always seemed to me angry, also malcontent, they always nuzzle in the earth for something eatable and are able to run pretty fast. Even decades later, they chased me through the dark forest in a nightmare.
But this shall be the rest of a wild sow? I felt great sadness. More should not remain when animals die? Oh, there are some more bones, my father said. You didn't found them all. My hushed question was: And we, we humans, what will remain from us? Erm, who really knows that?, was his answer. It was time for supper and I felt silent for the rest of the day.
This was my first encounter with death. Many others should follow. But I never forgot this first intensive feeling and wanted to tell this experience in a painting someday. So, long time I was looking for a wondering boy in the age of four. I did not wanted to paint myself.
Some years ago, my wife brought back home a skull from a wild sow from a walk with mother's-in-law dog. As no anthill was nearby, I boiled off the skull. It stank badly.
The boy in my painting I met years later. He is a son of my wife's colleague. When he was sitting for the painting in my studio with the skull in his hands, I was telling him my story and that the skull was in the shelf in my nursery for years. Somehow, his hair stood on end and I saw a mixture of astonishment and horror.
When Bosse saw the emergence of the painting, he said: You are painting me, but I didn't sat, never I sat in that forest with such a big tree. I was sitting in your studio!
Die Auseinandersetzung mit Kommen und Gehen, Liebe, Verlust, Trauer, Leid und Tod ergreift irgendwann jeden Menschen. Gewollt oder ungewollt. Sie ist Bestandteil unseres Seins und trägt sicher unsere unumgängliche irdische Vergänglichkeit als Ursache in sich. Dass sich Gläubige diesem Thema spirituell annehmen ist nachvollziehbar. Seit es den Menschen gibt, setzt er diese Prozesse, Werte und Inhalte gestalterisch um. Otto Dix sagt 'Die alten Themen sind die Besten'.
Je unruhiger sich mein Umfeld gestaltest, je hektischer die Gesellschaft sich formt und wandelt, die Demokratie in ihre Krise gerät, desto grösser wird meine Sehnsucht nach Ruhe und Andacht. Im letzten Jahr sah ich in Porto das Bild ‣ Mártir Cristão von Joaquim Vitorino Ribeiro aus dem Jahr 1879.
Wir, die Besucher des Museums, standen leise und andachtsvoll vor der Bildtafel. Sie berührte. Unfassbare Andacht. Stille. Meine innere Stimme sagte mir später: Das ist die Idee für eine eigene Pietà. Irgendwann male ich ein eigenes Andachtsbild. Gleiches fühlte ich schon oft beim Anblick der Werke von Giovanni Bellini in Venedig.
Als dann Monate später bei einer Modellsitzung zum Thema Lucretia mein Modell, des Inhalts wegen der Ohnmacht nahe, sich aufs Sofa legte und das getrunkene Wasserglas absenkte, war die Idee geboren. Das Glas ist leer und wird gleich zu Boden fallen. Und da waren die aufstrebenden Linien wie bei Ribeiro. Die Haare flossen dahin wie gelebtes Leben. Das Tattoo schlich sich als Tod in die Wesenheit und entrückte die Figur auf seltsam schwebende Art dem Jetzt.
Die nächsten Monate gehörten dem Thema Pietà. Warum sollte ich das mittelalterliche Thema nicht transformieren mit einem Menschen von heute? Oft dachte ich, vielleicht ist es die zurückgelassene Maria selbst. Der Gedanke gefiel mir und ich verlieh, trotz der gewählten Kälte des Bildes, dem Inhalt etwas Entschwebendes. Sofa, Stiefel und Kostüm sind eine merkwürdige Mischung verschiedener Zeiten und Inhalte. Willkommene Gründe für Irritation.
Reaktionen auf die Tafel gab es bisher nur im Atelier.
Auffällig ist die Stille, die das lebensgroße Bild auslöst. Auch bei Menschen die nicht aus unserem Kulturkreis stammen.
Meinungen und Äusserungen zur Tafel: Lebt sie noch? · Ich sehe die Schönheit des Seins, den vergehenden Schmerz und die Erlösung. · Woran ist sie gestorben? Am Verlust? · Hat sie sich vergiftet? · Ist ihre Seele noch hier? · Da schwingt auch eine erotische Komponente mit. Seltsame Mischung. · Der Welt entrückte Andacht. · Sehr sanft entschwebend. · Welch eine Ruhe. · Vielleicht auf der Party liegen geblieben?
Es gab auch empörte Newsletter-Abbestellungen aus den Vereinigten Staaten. ‣ Zum Video über die Bildentstehung
Wie alle Großväter sagte auch meiner mir einst Gelassenheit fürs Alter voraus. Gilt das ebenso für die Politik? Ja, beruhigte er mich als Jugendlicher. Walter Ulbrichts Politik zum Beispiel brachte ihn in meiner Kindheit zur Weißglut. Schon wenige Jahre später schmunzelte er: Diesen alten Ziegenbock kann man doch nicht ernst nehmen.
Trotz aufkommender Gelassenheit stellt sich bei mir keine Gleichgültigkeit gegenüber politischen Tendenzen ein. Sollte ich als Maler politische Entwicklungen reflektieren? Die Antwort in mir lautet immer wieder: Bitte keine Tagespolitik. Such dir Metaphern!
In der venezianischen Accademia sah ich vor zwanzig Jahren erstmals die 'Madonna degli Alberetti' von Giovanni Bellini.die Madonna mit dem Jesuskind gemalt 1487. Großes Theater vor einem einfachen Vorhang. Eine fesselnde Inszenierung, eine simple und zugleich geniale Bildidee. Für meine Stilleben entlehne ich diese gelegentlich.
Aus einem mehrwöchigen Venedig-Urlaub zurückgekehrt, sah ich in einem Tonkrug unserer Küche Kartoffeln keimen. Es waren recht lange Keime. Die Kartoffeln hatten ihre letzte Energie in der Hoffnung auf Zukunft geopfert. Leider werden sie in Kürze ohne Erdung vergehen. Ihnen fehlt die Bodenhaftung. Aber zuvor zeigen sie sich in gelber, grüner und purpurner Schönheit. Ein verzweifelter Griff nach Licht dem Tod entgegen. Es bot sich mir eine ebenso fesselnde Inszenierung wie die der Madonna mit dem Kind.
In der Politik geht es zunehmend weniger um Inhalte. Posten und Macht sind das Ziel, oft durchwachsen von gefährlicher Leere. Ein hilfloses Gerangel auf kalter Bühne in Richtung Kamera. Minister sind vielfach zu jung und unerfahren. Ihnen fehlen Geschichte, diplomatische Erfahrung und Gelassenheit. Und sie haben ein Zuviel an Glanz und einstudiertem Dauerlächeln. Ihnen fehlen ebenso wie meinen Kartoffen die Bodenhaftung. Und so vergehen sie recht schnell.
Da war die Metapher. Ein unförmiger roter Ziegelstein auf grünem Marmor wird zur Bühne für die letzte Reise. Bald kommen Asseln und Spinnen. Tod und Teufel wirken bereits im Hintergrund. Die Schönheit trügt. Es ist ein kurzes trauriges Aufbäumen, bevor der Vorhang fällt und der Grashüpfer weiter zieht. Wohl denen, die Erfahrung und Geschichte in sich tragen, denen die Bodenhaftung für die Zukunft gegeben ist. Diesen Menschen und Kartoffeln wünsche ich ein langes, erfülltes Leben voll farbenfroher Blüte und Schönheit. ‣ The genesis of the painting
Later, when I was 25, I was drafted against my will for military service. I ended up at the transport police. When Helmut Schmidt took the train across the inner German border to Güstrow to Erich Honecker in 1981, I, like countless others, lay as sergeant to secure him on the railway line near Bad Kleinen. I never thought I would paint the smoking guy up there by the window of the dining car.
My Hamburg painter friend Karmers invited me to his exhibition opening in 2005 to the publishing house of the ZEIT. There, in a narrow corridor, I met Helmut Schmidt and thought: 'Strange, what a charismatic person'.
Over the years, I read his books. While I was painting, I heard his Mozart and Bach interpretations. Piano concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hamburg Philharmonic. He played this to his Chancellor times.
2012, coincidence it wanted that the ZEIT editor Urs Willmann with his Swiss charm gave me an appointment with Helmut Schmidt. I was warned. One had to be able to cope with his long pauses, not only to endure his silence, but to use them immediately for new ideas. Toady and crawler he did not like. He loved the contradiction in conversation, was wide awake and curious even in old age. I very much like to remember this musical person. He was also a great joker full of humor.
Before he sat me model, he had cleared his old-fashioned cigar box, which contained several boxes of cigarettes, from his desk. Schmidt with a cigarette was not my topic either. I wanted my pilot in his cockpit called Knowledge.
More than a year after creating the picture sketches, I presented him the finished panel in his ZEIT office. His words were: 'Paint, paint Mr. Juergens!'. Thank you very much, Mr. Schmidt.
Ruth Rupp sah ich 2004 erstmals auf der Bühne des St. Pauli Theaters in der Dreigroschenoper mit Ulrich Tukur als Mackie Messer. Sie sang, nach einer Idee von Katharina John, in der Rolle einer Alt-Hure die Schlussszene und erntete somit allein auf der Bühne stehend den gefährlichen Schlussapplaus des Stückes. Die Hälfte des Publikums heulte vor Rührung. Ich auch. Und ich schwor mir, wenn mir diese kleine Dame eines Tages über den Weg läuft, so werde ich sie ansprechen.
Sechs Jahre später, im Hamburger St. Pauli Theater, hörte ich im Gehen eine lachende erwachsene Frauenstimme rufen: Verdammt, nun kippt mir wieder einer dieser Typen Rotwein in mein Dekolleté nur weil ich so klein bin. Mein Glas stoppte nur wenige Millimeter schräg vor ihr. Ich sah auf eine 154 cm große Frau. Wir saßen noch lange plaudernd im leeren Theater. Andere feierten an der Bar die Eröffnung der neuen Spielsaison, wir verabredeten uns. Ruths Worte: Wenn Du schon sechs Jahre hinter mir her bist, dann müssen wir das jetzt aber auch mal machen, das mit diesem Portrait.
Nach einer Woche saß sie erstmals bei mir im Blankeneser Atelier. Ruth ist nun 85 Jahre alt. Nachdem sie acht Jahre lang ihre kranke Mutter gepflegt hatte, entdeckte sie mit neunundsiebzig Jahren das Schauspiel. Zunächst die Bühne und gelegentlich auch Film.
Vor dem Krieg studierte sie Musik und Gesang. Im zweiten Weltkrieg stand sie als Mädchen in Hamburg an der Flak. Unvorstellbar. Später war sie Kindermädchen für Landkarten-Falk in Blankenese. Dessen Tochter Karin fand sie, nach 49 Jahren, durch mein gemaltes Portrait über Google wieder. Das ist doch Ruth, mein Kindermädchen von einst. Ein Telefonat: Kann es sein? Ja! Nun besuchen sie sich von Zeit zu Zeit und sind zum zweiten Mal befreundet.
Somit ist Malerei wohl doch nicht ganz so sinnlos.