Lonely coastal landscapes invite you to doze off. For me, snoozing is a particularly Nordic way of taking a walk within yourself.
Steep banks, rough winds and surging masses of water make the taciturn northern people shine and, hard to believe, even secretly philosophize.
Even as a child, I liked to sit lonely by the Baltic Sea, albeit far too seldom, and dreamed myself away, far out into the mysterious beyond the horizon.
It is always relaxing and at the same time a stroll through transience. Hikes by the sea are like good music, you often feel quite small and floating happy when enjoying them.
The sound of the sea carries us humans into infinity and tells us 'Time doesn't pass, we pass'. The rock experiences the same on its way to the coast. Stones lie there like sleeping primordial beings, occasionally with mysteriously polished mimes.
The Vistula Ice Age pushed them from Sweden to our coast 12,000 years ago. The sea rubbed many of them to sand and some defiantly remained as erratic boulders. Some call themselves Sweden Stones. How does a Swedish stone feel that has been washed by water for thousands of years? It certainly does not care which beach it sunbathes or swims on. The main thing for it is that there is sand, salty air and laughing seagulls.
Cracked edges reveal ochre-glowing earth pigments in all their beauty. Sand Martins dig nests in steep, sandy ridges. Wind blows grass seed between soon to be falling trees. They look into the abyss at their withered relatives bending over rocks. The ever-hungry sea fetches them with the next storm surge and shapes them into polished, light-colored wooden skeletons. Wounds, scars, inclusions, occasionally an amber. Incessant illegal shipments of sediment between states, such is the sea. It knows no borders.
There's a skull. Since when has the sea been dragging it, or has it just exposed it?
Of course, the Baltic Sea is not an ocean. Anyway, here's a quote from the American poet Sarah Kay: 'Because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away.'
In the picture two are walking with a dog. They are my wife and our friend Katharina with a bright red scarf and her dog Peppina.
Coastal hikes are not only suitable for daydreams, but also for melancholic reflections. Icy cold blows around the walkers.
For decades, the sea, its omnipotence, has reminded me of a person it took from us. We called him Cherry. I once went to sea with him as an ❯ able seaman apprentice on the motor vessel MS Georg Buechner under Captain Schickedanz. Together with our buddy Stoff, we dreamed of sailing on the oil tanker MS Böhlen after the apprenticeship. An eye disease took away my seaman's book at the end of my apprenticeship. Stoff his story also led to leaving the shipping company. How lucky from today's point of view.
October 14, 1976: A navigational error, the tanker leaked and later sank off the French coast of Crozon. I found out about our friend's death through the television news.
On the way to scrapping, our former training vessel MS Georg Buechner later sank off Cape Rozewie on May 30, 2013.
Ocean. It constantly takes, often unforgivably, but it also gives away melancholy, dream worlds, primeval things, relaxation and wanderlust. Of course, there is also danger in every coastal and sea magic. Maybe that's why the beauty of the ailing fishes its charm from it. There is a strange, never-ending fascination in the view of the incessantly churning infinity of the sea.
For five years now I have been living again at the southernmost point of the Baltic Sea, in Wismar. Certainly, this sea will often provoke me to new pictures.
❯ Christian Redl would say: 'Melancholy is a condition that is too highly desirable'.
To begin with, a confession: I love strong women. A long story is part of a woman's long life. Even as a teenager I liked to visit Aunt Lotti a few villages away in Drispeth in Mecklenburg. Drinking beer with friends in the pub of this elderly lady in a rustic living room atmosphere was something of a cult. Three generations celebrated there and told their stories. I would have loved to paint Lotti back then. But the little landlady, for whom we had great respect, did not want to be portrayed.
In 2002 I celebrated for the first time in the Hamburger Silbersack on St. Pauli. Since then, the pub has brought me good luck. Over the years I got to know interesting people from all social classes. Petty and big criminals, actors, politicians, musicians, whores, theater directors, pastors, bankers, posers, desperate people, seekers, light and heavy drinkers, helpless and unstable, innkeepers and confused, losers and optimists, rose and newspaper sellers.
My later Venice exhibition was arranged here in 2004. And here at the bar the idea flowed into me to portray the landlady Erna Thomsen.
On the blissful way home after a visit to Silbersack, I said to my wife: 'Did you look the boss in the eye while saying goodbye? This lady would have to be painted. Including her universe called Silbersack.' 'I beg your pardon?' she replied. 'All the pennants and bottles too?' 'Yes, yes! ‘I got the impression: Somebody saved her time for us. I still have great respect for such consistency.
In 2007 we moved to Hamburg. Like me, this St. Pauli was full of contradictions. The unadorned, curious look into the abyss fascinated me. The devil knows why I want to look him in the eye from time to time. Is it the insatiable curiosity about life?
In the Brockhaus Conversations Lexicon from 1884 I read: 'There were inns and taverns in the modern sense in large numbers in ancient times. For the most part, these smoky and, as Horace says, 'greasy rooms' were intended for the lowest class of the population, who restored, quaffed, danced and told news here without much comfort. But there were also taverns in which more refined pleasures captivated noble people and in which one could gamble away a fortune, especially with game of chance and women.'
Now we lived in a loft on the Hotel Hanseport parallel to the Herbertstrasse. Helmut, the host of the pub on the corner, told me with a smile while looking at my studio window: It used to be busier up there. A very enterprising, beautiful noble whore worked there.
When my wife first looked out the window of our new apartment into the narrow alley of the Erichstrasse, she said: 'Déjà-vu: I know that look.' She went to the bookshelf and pulled out a small illustrated book. A present from days gone by. Women on St. Pauli, a 1970s documentary in black and white.
Days later we showed the book at the bar across the street. An old whore, who was still active at the age of 76, recognized many of the ladies of yore. Her gaze floated into infinity: Well, my suitors grew old with me. A wistful smile spread across her face.
We regularly celebrated our way through the nightly neighborhood and tried to understand and appreciate the new life. Even the dirty can develop its charm. In wondrous, sometimes lovingly rocked taverns and grottos, bar ladies, bartenders and whores became confidants and sometimes even friends.
We visited theaters in Hamburg before we even lived there. My wife and I often stayed in the hour hotel across the street from the St. Pauli Theater. Big cinema in front of and in the theater. What an interesting and absurd experience. St. Pauli became a place of longing.
When Ulrich Tukur and his band performed in the St. Pauli Theater, Hamburg's oldest landlady, Erna Thomsen, often sat in the front row. Ulrich invited her regularly and his final moderation of the concerts often ended with the words: 'See you later in one of the most remarkable establishments in this city, in Erna's Silbersack.'
Solid prices: beer for 1.90 euros a bottle was once read outside in the shop window. On the poster a sparingly dressed young lady with the caption: Please also note the beer! Happy footballers next door. On the pitch, ’Erna's Boys’, a lively recreational football team with the great name ’FC Silbersack’, represented the pub. Inside, on the tables, there were old juice bottles with fresh flowers every day. There I saw the first bar with a railing. One got the impression that every German soccer team had donated at least one club pennant for the mirror shelves behind the counter. Odds and ends and postcards, including by Hans Albers and Freddy Quinn, also adorned the shelves.
And Erna? Erna didn't come, she appeared. Always wore red, pope red, was at the same time captain and grande dame on her ship called Silbersack, which she safely guided through the ups and downs of her decades.
A lot worked through non-verbal communication. She was charming, warm and strict at the same time. A little woman to look up to. Erna, the soul of this St. Pauli bar. With regard to the red light, she said to me, 'Yes, to be there, but not to participate.' 'I haven't had a beer in my entire life. That's too bitter for me. Occasionally a glass of sparkling wine, a little egg liqueur or a glass of champagne.'
Erna was happy when there was a party, because if you celebrate, you drink, and that's good for business. No matter if student, businessman, actor or sex tourist.
Business had to go! It boomed in the 50s and 60s. ’Luett and Luett’, 0.1 l of beer and a caraway schnapps, for 45 pfennigs were a hit. Lipsticks, tights, condoms and porno magazines were sold in the toilet rooms.
The 70s were more difficult, the pent-up demand was covered. There was less drinking outside the home. Family fathers saved up for a small car and the long-awaited vacation in Italy. All of a sudden, salaries were no longer in wage packets, but transferred to the bank account, so it was much safer from dropping into the Silbersack. Fishing zones were set up, and Hamburg shipping companies also gave up. Seafarers became unemployed and Erna's turnover fell noticeably. She said: It was bitter. I even had to fire employees.
I was fascinated by this strong little woman. She reminded me of Aunt Lotti from Drispeth. On my own, I asked quietly: Ms. Thomsen, I would like to paint you. Her answer was: 'Now don't always tell Ms. Thomsen. I'm Erna.' She looked through me: 'I've been painted before. It wasn't like that.' With that, the subject was off the table for a long time.
Monday was the most relaxed day in the otherwise eccentrically pulsating St. Pauli life. The crowd was in a weekend coma for a short time. The hosts had already recovered for a day and were looking forward to the next round.
Passing the familiar girls next door who stood in their area from 8 p.m. and picked suitors from the street every evening. 'Well, Pumuckl, how about us today?' 'I'm going to the Silbersack now!' 'No, not! Is that better for you? I have great doubts!'
Party music resounded from the clubs and carried me away into Erna's world. As I said, she had saved her time for us, the post-war years, a decade of a new beginning. I often ended up there at night after my painting time at the easel. On Mondays, Nils C. Freytag stood behind the counter. I told him about my failure with Erna. He said calmly: 'Erna is a tough nut to crack. Let me do it, we need a lot of patience and time.'
Did he really have a feel for the right moments? I thought if he could do that, I would paint him in the picture as a postcard right next to Hans Albers. Months later he said to Erna: 'Said in confidence, you could actually let Manfred paint you.' To which she replied quietly: 'Yes. But it can't take long!'
On the following Monday, Nils doubled her behind the counter. In the left hand the freshly starched, white handkerchief, in the right the stone-old bottle opener. Erna had allowed me to take pictures in her pub for an hour with a tripod and staged headlights.
At some point my favorite landlady actually gave me some time and modeled behind her counter shortly before the start of work.
Occasionally I drank with a homeless man. He spoke of the feeling of freedom of empty hands. Here in this pub, his world was perfectly fine. Here, this was his family. Many had Erna in their hearts as a friend, sister, mother or grandmother, with whom one could celebrate properly. Look at her! She came from the village over 60 years ago and became an icon that conquered the city anew every day without giving herself away. Maybe that's why we treated her with such great respect.
There was free beer on Erna's birthday. Her announcement was brief and clear: No presents, please! Only donations for the children of St. Pauli.
Look there, the Ede. Where did he get that chic suit? 'From the pawnshop,' he replied proudly! And where can you find such a beautiful, large bouquet of cherry blossoms in mid-April? 'Well, I've been collecting more bottles over the past few weeks. But today Erna's birthday is celebrated. Cheers to a long life, Erna!' He pressed number 148 on the jukebox for her, 'The time was so beautiful' from Freddy Quinn.
The piggy bank on the counter held up to 13,000 donation talers on such days. At midnight Erna made a phone call: You can come to share it. But don't forget the donation receipt. After-school care center and kindergarten shared the noble cash injection.
The time of greater familiarity began. These are old stories, she said calmly, but Freddy was really a nice boy, and Manfred, from the barstool you're sitting on, Hilde Knef occasionally fell down at three-thirty in the morning. She once shot a film with a French guy here in the 1950s, but I've never seen it. And my friend Hans, yes Albers, never wanted to foot the bill when he was drunk, otherwise he would.
'At that time my husband Friedrich was still there. It was a rubble lot on which we built the wooden house. We paid the forester for the wood in kind. I think he got a bucket of honey and a bike back then. We opened the Silbersack on June 25, 1949.’
Erna's husband died of cancer in 1958. She couldn't and shouldn't think about quitting. The children lived until they were ten on their parents' farm in Rethen near Braunschweig. This is where the honey came from, with which they could swap one or two things in the post-war years. Has there never been a man again? 'No, you will not marry again with three children.' And she adds with satisfaction: 'There were proposals.'
In the early years, vouchers were distributed to the girls working in the neighborhood. Free coupons for hot coffee, which was something special after the war, and where the girls sat, dock workers, seamen and whalers, who still existed back then, also enjoyed drinking. Whalers confidently handed over their wages to Erna at the bar, and she then informed their wives. These came immediately and the wages were contractually shared with a signature. So, the families of the whalers were able to survive and the tough guys didn't squander everything on the first day of their shore leave.
In the years 2009/10 I finally painted the life-size portrait of Erna. Old technique canvas on wood. It was a great pleasure. When I didn't know what to do next, I went to Erna in the Silbersack to look her in the eye. 'You've been here a lot lately!' 'Yes, it's purely professional! Erna, you've been standing behind the same counter here for well over 60 years ...' 'Oh, what,' she waved slightly sullenly, 'that's never boring. What do you think, should I wither away lonely on the sofa in front of the television?'
There is a video by Pavel Lavrov about my panel painting. It was his thesis as a media designer at the Studio Hamburg. In this one I actually claim at the beginning of the work on the portrait that the picture will take three months to complete. How naive was that? It took nine months.
Well, after completion, I told Erna about my often strange way of presenting paintings. In 2007 I did the first ❯ One-Painting-Exhibition in Switzerland on the Alp Wispile ❯ with my portrait of the Cow Soraia. The ingredients were a mountain, a lovable farming family, a cowshed and a panel on an easel. It was two days, from sunrise to sunset, with many interested and international guests.
'Can we do the same with your picture here in the Silbersack?' Her answer:'But not two days!'
In the meantime, Erna and Nils visited me in the studio. Later she revealed in the Silbersack that she would have liked more shine in her hair. After that there was a long silence with the idea of a One-Painting-Exhibition. But then a surprising call from Erna personally: 'You, Manfred, I've thought it through. We will do it!' 'Great, I will do the invitation.'
In a blog by Oskar Piegsa, I read his announcement that Erna and I are trend-resistant. Trend-resistant. What a beautiful word. I didn't know. But it described our philosophies of life quite accurately. We got a whole, apparently ad-free page as advance notice in the culture section of the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.
Three days before the exhibition my wife said: There are bulbs on your Erna board. I'll call ASTRA. In fact, the brewery kept 400 visitors free with beer on the evening of the exhibition. Thank you ASTRA!
I had never opened an exhibition alone in a bar in front of television cameras. The place was packed. No overstimulation, no music, no ashtrays on the tables. Thematically there was only Erna and the portrait of her. During this long evening, the audience changed several times unnoticed. The following day we saw each other in an television report of the Northern German evening journal. Erna was enthusiastic about this successful advertisement for her bar!
When I told her that I was currently painting the 94-year-old former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, she said: I would like to put the ashtray in front of him. Erna did not live to see the completion of this portrait. She died on May 9, 2012 at the age of 88.
On the morning of May 18, my wife and I were crying in the overcrowded St. Pauli Church. The coffin was laid out in front of the altar. Erna's coffin. Mourners from all social classes reverently followed the words of Pastor Sieghard Wilm. An accordion played softly on the gallery: In Hamburg they say goodbye. There were many, many mourners standing in line in front of the church when Erna's coffin was carried out of the church.
After the funeral service, we sat quietly for the first time and without Erna in the Silbersack. The following words by Ulrich Tukur were to be read in the obituary notice in the Hamburger Abendblatt: 'I think the secret of this little pub is that someone has stayed and been loyal for over half a century.'
A collector friend of mine asked me in 2007 for a few words in writing about a picture he had bought from me. On the phone I heard him saying: 'My daughter likes the portrait of your chicken from Ahnebergen.' This is how my first picture story came about.
When I exhibited in the Holly Snapp Gallery in Venice in 2005 ❯ Lucy Mae, the gallery owner's daughter, wished that her mother would buy her my portrait of a chicken. But she said: Go to your father, he is also a painter, he may paint you a chicken. But he preferred to paint beautiful female students in his palazzo on the Venetian Giudecca.
Recently, I read the following in the 1884 Brockhaus Conversations Lexicon: In agriculture, there was a time when poultry was considered a necessary evil. 'If you want to perish and don't know how, keep a lot of poultry!' is an old farmer's saying.
Chicken birds live mostly on the ground, fly heavily with rustling wings, feed on everything that can be found on and in the ground such as seeds, insects, worms, buds, etc., make an artless, open nest on the ground in which they hatch many eggs and live mostly in polygamy. In this case the male is much larger and more beautifully colored than the female.
Memories. In Schönhof in Mecklenburg, the village of my childhood, there was a strange game called chicken catching. During the summer holidays we little village boys invited each other to our farms for this rather time-consuming undertaking. Often two or three came along with their wicker baskets. The first thing to do was to adjust the length of the stick and the strap. The wicker baskets were turned upside down next to each other at the same distance. Under each side we placed a stick with a ribbon attached. We strewed grain under the angled baskets and waited hidden for the hungry chickens for hours. A counting list was kept. If someone pecked under the basket - bang - you pulled the string, the chicken was caught and another line graced the list. Points were considered as respectable successes. The frightened chicken was released immediately and we waited for the next one.
Seldom, I got the most points, since I preferred to draw the chickens while waiting. I loved this game.
Since I once studied Science Graphics in Berlin and also worked for the zoologist ❯ Prof. Dr. Dr. Heinrich Dathe ,I never really lost my zoological view of animals. However, it increasingly mixes with my attitude as a portrait painter.
When ❯ in-laws were still alive, my wife and I liked to visit them in the Lower Saxon village called Ahnebergen. Chickens lived there too, of course. I found one particularly beautiful, so definitely worth painting. Since I rarely draw, I started taking photos. On the first day it was only about two hours.
As is well known, chickens are not very tall. In order to get good portraits of them, it was advisable to hold the telephoto lens at the ready and crawl on the stomach, to follow them at a distance of 30 to 40 cm at their head height across the chicken yard. Somehow this situation reminded me of my army days.
Chickens, what strange ghosts. They are constantly pecking and walking restlessly through their poultry life, constantly shaking their heads. There is nothing with calm model seats for the painter, no carefully staged light with spotlights. Yes, I could have painted a chicken in general, but I meant this concrete one in its own beauty.
I got the first sharp photos on the second day, after about four more hours at eye level with the most curious chicken in the village. On the third day, I had the impression that we have known each other forever. The chicken reacted similarly. The rooster continued to send me off. Maybe he was jealous. A rooster has about 10 to 20 chickens. I told him that his life would be too stressful for me. It is still unclear to me why his brides are called Italians. Their excellent laying performance made tempera painting possible for Orthodox monks as early as the 6th century. I also use egg tempera in my painting technique today. Thank the chicken for one of the most durable binders in painting history.
Back to Ahnebergen. My father-in-law asked his daughter on my fourth day of photography with a view on the chicken farm, 'What is he doing there?'. 'Papa, Manfred wants to paint the chicken!' He just shook his head. He was probably worried about his son-in-law's state of mind.
When I showed the painted portrait of my Ahneberger chicken a year later, I heard 'We ate that'.
My collector friend later told me that he had read this story to his little daughter in the kitchen in front of the picture hanging there. She listened very interested, but felt sad about the last sentence. Lotti doesn't like it when animals die.
A friend had run away with my wife. For the second time I was left with nothing. Woman away. Child gone. No apartment, no money. Even the job was gone. Why did I have to experience this for the second time? I found myself unable to live. I had sold my remaining furniture. I drank, numbed my pain thoroughly.
The village pastor pulled me out of the ditch. Something similar had happened to him. His wife would soon move out of the rectory. Then I could use two small rooms under the roof. There were conditions to be met. One request was that when I moved out again I would renovate the rectory hall. I had learned painters. No problem. Second, no drop of alcohol. The parish council voted unanimously. What a saving luck! I only drank water for a year.
For the first six months my hands didn't want what I was used to from them. I couldn't paint anymore, I felt paralyzed. It was a terrible time. Yes, I was at risk of suicide, but I had promised the pastor, with whom I still feel friendly today, that I would not harm me.
One year became 18 months in the rectory. My self-repair was more complex than originally thought. The pastor and I occasionally had breakfast together. I dreamed something very strange last night, I once told him. In a dream I moved to Wismar, went to the brothel and painted the whores. His answer was spontaneous: If I were a painter, I would do it immediately!
So I renovated the holy hallway. The village plumber packed my bulky waste and easel into his van and drove me to Wismar. There I occupied a partly empty old house. It was the period after the German reunification.
Even in the distance, I saw no blossoming landscapes. I had not been insured for a long time and the identity card had expired years ago. An account? No. In Wismar I confidently started my future as a painter with 30 Deutsche Mark. I had nothing to lose. In such situations you are not afraid. And if I ended up in jail, I would paint the guards.
Now I was looking for a brothel and ended up in one of the city's most frivolous and smoky bars. In Eastern times, many serious literary figures read here in the former New Antiquarian Bookshop. The popular book corner mutated into a wine shop with a cult character. There the very well-read, wine-bibbing innkeeper paired me up with a gentleman who, dressed as an Eulenspiegel, did popular city tours. The doctor had diagnosed him with cancer and he decided to spend the rest of his time with the women. He knew the five brothels of the small town very well.
We made an appointment and he introduced me to all the whores in town the following night. Ladies, that's him, the new portrait painter of this city, I heard him say in a deep voice. He will paint you all! At that moment I would like to be sunk in the ground. My God, I came from the rectory, felt like I hadn't seen beauties so lightly clad for 200 light years. There I was now running up to pubic violet and cursed my dream.
In the last brothel, the noblest in town, I met young women who I felt could understand me. Hah! I guess right, no sex, just paint? Now the competition started. Who would lay the painter flat. The pimps initially had no understanding for my project. Painter, don't drive the girls here crazy with your loopy painting, they should work.
At the end of the month, when Hamburg bankers and Wismar shipyard workers ran out of pocket money, the women were bored. Somehow they were missing, at least financially, the punters. It was good for me. We had a lot of time, also to exchange life stories. Please, painter, did you fall in love again after years? In one of us? No, it's one out there. She is a civil engineer. Well, bring her with you. And in fact the puff mother, who was also curious, agreed. But when suitors come, she's gone. No problem. So we sat with bacon and vodka for a few nights with the girls behind the striptease stage and celebrated life extensively.
Diving into this half-world was not only weird, full of frivolous stories and absurd, but also really exciting and interesting. A terrific reflection of our society, entertaining and shattering at the same time.
On the afternoon of my 40th birthday, the neighbors were amazed, a gold-colored Mercedes pulled up. Six whores and the puff mother got out. The girls lightly clothed, armed with flowers, sparkling wine and cakes. The lavish festival ended shortly before 8 p.m. The ladies had to work.
Now they knew the poverty in which I lived. From now on I got great gifts. Used plates, cutlery, drinks glasses of all kinds. One actually gave me a pillow when she was modelling in the small studio. I often waited for the women for many hours. They were not reliable in terms of time.
Boah! This eternal wait! So I came up with the following rule. Arriving late for every hour, I get a free beer at the bar in the evening. It worked out pretty well and became my main food source.
A lot was built after the fall of the wall. Construction site to construction site. So it made sense to collect a wooden pallet every night on the way home as welcome heating material for the tiled stove in the small studio. Winter break. I didn't had money for coal. Friends from Neukloster, who used to visit my disco, heard about my hypothermic situation and unloaded a trailer full of wood on my doorstep. That was the rescue in winter 1996/97.
Real friendships developed with the girls. A Siberian native said at the sight of my portraits that I was giving them dignity that they did not experience in everyday life.
My civil engineer liked the painted portraits. Don't you finally want to exhibit them? I'm not good enough yet. How long do you need? Please give me five more years. In fact, she kept my back financially for five years. Yes, he paid the money back later.
More than 350 visitors came to my first exhibition in the Gallery Baumhaus at the Old Wismar Harbor at the opening in May 2001. Of course I had also invited the puff mother. From a distance, when she saw the masses, she initially thought that it was a demo against the whore pictures, that is, against her brothel.
But no! The party went on until the early morning. Today, the Wismar Cultural Office says: Nobody expected that. We were afraid that the happy audience would fall into the harbor basin.
I went to the brothel every day for a year. After that I stopped. The abysses of the men and the stories of the girls made me more and more apocalyptic nightmares. So I gradually withdrew.
Six life-size portraits tell of this incredibly exciting time with interesting strong women, which I learned to appreciate very much.
Years later, when my wife, yes, the engineer, and I lived in the immediate vicinity of Herbertstrasse in Hamburg, I met one of the young women in the burlesque bar opposite our flat for the first time.
Do you still have our portraits? Yes of course. I could have sold them multiple times, but somehow I could never bring myself to do it. So you didn't make any money from us? No!
But I learned from you, learned a lot, for and about life. I really mean it.
It's strange how long it occasionally takes until an experience or an idea becomes a portrait. For many years I have been listening to his music while painting, watching his play on the theater stage and in films, and am always fascinated.
After the Threepenny Opera was played at the Hamburg St. Pauli Theater in 2005, we sat with actors in the ‚Brothel‘. There, in the restaurant, I met Christian Redl for the first time. What a guy! We talked long and intensely about life and women, failure and abysses, ailing and musical in us, youth and François Villon. Christian promised me to be portrayed. Heavy red wine flowed freely.
Hamburg: A few weeks later, to my delight, I met him completely by surprise at St. Georg. Oh how nice, Christian, then we can talk about the portrait. His answer in a deep voice: I don't know that we know each other! Months later at the Greek restaurant Vasili in the Davidstrasse again absolutely interesting thoughts and the renewed acceptance. A few days later at a chance meeting on the street: I don't know what you are talking about! I was so fed up with these actors.
The years passed. In 2016, after my friend Katharina opened an exhibition, we celebrated her birthday until the light of day at Castle Clemenswerth in the Emsland. She introduced me to a charming, saving bride. She has been Christian Redl's wife for a few years. I leaned back quietly, waved my hand with a smile and then told my Redl story. You: If he only knew! He likes your painting and even has postcards from you. Days later my wife came into the studio and played me an audio message on her cell phone: 'Well, I'm the Redl. I'm strangely embarrassed. If you are still interested, I would be available'.
It didn't take long and he appeared to me in a dream one night. Was it a walking stick? No, he was standing by the sea with a hat and an umbrella. A black shard of glass had just fallen from the sky close to him. His abysses were reflected in it. Since I knew from him that he had once barely missed severe alcoholism, I saw the devil strolling along with relish and gleefully leaving his tracks in the sand. A horse's foot, a human foot …
On the eve of the photo sketches for the portrait, my wife and I like to go out to eat with those to be portrayed. Christian told about his favorite picture 'The Monk by the Sea' by the Greifswald colleague Caspar David Friedrich. Yes, that fits the role of the lone wolf. The following day, the photo sketches were made on the banks of the river Elbe in Hamburg-Rissen.
In the dream the Elbe became a billowing sea. While designing the picture, Murnaus Nosferatu appeared to me in the shard of the mirror. Max Schreck, you know my city, I'll paint you! Much of the film was shot in Wisborg, that is, in Wismar, in 1921. That fits!
On Venice's Giudecca, Ulrich Tukur saw my first draft on the iPad and immediately complained about the shoes in the picture. 'You don't really want to paint him in these health shoes'. A few glasses of red wine later: 'Mmm, well, because, uh, take off his shoes and take him barefoot!' Joyful agreement on my part: 'Exactly, great, that is more vulnerable, more sensitive. I like that! Christian has to model again, at least his feet.'
With life-size pictures, a man can brood for nine months. My newborn baby was 72 years old on the day he was born. To a long life! I am glad that now, after 15 years, I finally got this portrait.
As soon as Corona has dried up, there will be the second Hamburg one-picture exhibition with this picture panel. My first on the Elbe was the one with the ❯ Portrait of Erna Thomsen in her pub called Silbersack on St. Pauli. But this is another story.
'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 2007 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!
The confrontation with coming and going, love, loss, grief, suffering and death will eventually affect every human being. Wanted or unwanted. It is part of our being and certainly carries our inevitable earthly transience as a cause in itself. That believers spiritually accept this topic is understandable. Since humans exist, they have creatively implemented these processes, values and contents. Otto Dix says 'The old topics are the best'.
The more restless my environment is, the more hectic society shapes and transforms, the democracy gets into its crisis, the greater my longing for peace and devotion becomes. Last year I saw in Porto the picture ❯ Mártir Cristão by Joaquim Vitorino Ribeiro from 1879.
We, the visitors of the museum, stood quietly and devoutly in front of the picture board. She touched. Incredible devotion. Silence. My inner voice told me later: This is the idea for a Pietà. At some point I paint my own devotional picture. I have often felt the same at the sight of the works of Giovanni Bellini in Venice.
Months later, at a model session on the subject of Lucretia, when my model, which was close to content because of the powerlessness, lay down on the sofa and lowered the drunk water glass, the idea was born. The glass is empty and will soon fall to the ground. And there were the aspiring lines like Ribeiro. The hair flowed like lived life. The tattoo crept into the entity as a death and removed the figure in a strangely hovering way from the now.
The next months were about Pietà. Why should not I transform the medieval theme with a man of today? Often I thought, perhaps it is the left behind Maria herself. I liked the idea and, despite the coldness of the picture, I lent something to the content of the picture. Sofa, boots and costume are a strange mix of different times and content. Welcome reasons for irritation.
Reactions to the blackboard were previously only in the studio.
Striking is the silence that triggers the life-size picture. Even with people who are not from our culture.
Opinions and statements on the board: Is she still alive? · I see the beauty of being, passing pain and salvation. · How did she die? At the loss? · Did she poison herself? · Is her soul still here? · There's an erotic component too. Strange mixture. · Devoted devotion to the world. · Very gently floating. · What a rest. · Maybe stayed at the party?
There were also outraged newsletter cancellations from the United States.❯ To the video about the genesis of a portrait
Like all grandfathers, mine once predicted serenity for old age. Is that also true for politics? Yes, he reassured me as a teenager. Walter Ulbricht's politics, for example, made him white-hot in my childhood. Only a few years later he smiled: You can not take this old goat seriously.
Despite emerging serenity, I am indifferent to political tendencies. Should I as a painter reflect on political developments? The answer in me is again and again: Please no daily policy. Look for metaphors!
Twenty years ago, in the Venetian Accademia, I first saw the 'Madonna degli Alberetti' by Giovanni Bellini.the Madonna and Jesus Child painted 1487. Great theater in front of a simple curtain. A captivating staging, a simple yet ingenious image idea. For my still lifes, I occasionally borrow them.
Having returned from a holiday in Venice for several weeks, I saw potatoes germinate in a clay pot of our kitchen. They were quite long germs. The potatoes had sacrificed their last energy in the hope of the future. Unfortunately, they will shortly pass without grounding. They lack the grip. But first they show themselves in yellow, green and purple beauty. A desperate grasp of light towards death. It offered me an equally compelling staging as that of the Madonna and Child.
In politics, there is less and less content. Post and power are the goal, often interspersed with dangerous emptiness. A helpless scramble on a cold stage towards the camera. Ministers are often too young and inexperienced. They lack history, diplomatic experience and serenity. And they have too much gloss and a studied permanent smile. They lack as well as my kartoffs the grip. And so they pass quickly.
There was the metaphor. A shapeless red brick on green marble becomes the stage for the last journey. Soon come woodlice and spiders. Death and the devil are already working in the background. The beauty is deceptive. It is a short sad rearing, before the curtain falls and the grasshopper moves on. Probably for those who have experience and history, who are given the grip for the future. I wish these people and potatoes a long, fulfilling life full of colorful blossom and beauty. ❯ The genesis of the painting
As a teenager, I would have demonstrated against his policy in 1983. But I grew up in the GDR and could not bounce up in Bonn against the NATO double-decision.
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!'.
In 2004, I first saw Ruth Rupp on the stage of the St. Pauli Theater in the Threepenny Opera with Ulrich Tukur as Mackie Messer. She sang, after an idea of Katharina John, in the role of an old whore the final scene and reaped thus alone standing on the stage the dangerous final applause of the play. Half of the audience howled with emotion. Me too. And I swear, if this little lady comes across my way one day, I'll address her.
Six years later, at the Hamburg St. Pauli Theater, I heard a laughing adult woman's voice call as I walked: Damn, now one of these types of red wine tilts into my cleavage just because I'm so small. My glass stopped just a few millimeters in front of her. I looked at a 144 cm tall woman. We sat chatting in the empty theater for a long time. Others were celebrating the opening of the new season at the bar and we made an appointment. Ruth's words: If you've been after me for six years, then we have to do that with this portrait.
After a week she sat with me for the first time in the Blankenese studio. Ruth is now 85 years old. After nursing her sick mother for eight years, she discovered the spectacle at the age of seventy-seven. First the stage and occasionally film.
Before the war, she studied music and singing. During World War II she was a girl in Hamburg on the flak. Inconceivably. Later, she was a nanny for Map Falk in Blankenese. His daughter Karin found her, after 49 years, through my painted portrait of Google again. That's Ruth, my nanny of yore. A telephone call: Can it be? Yes! Now they visit from time to time and are friends for the second time.
So painting is not quite so pointless.
The crowd is big in front of the pub Zum Silbersack on St. Pauli. Around the corner are the first whores, a few meters further on is the Reeperbahn, nocturnal nocturnal revelers, drunken teenagers and shy-looking tourists. But in the silver sack people are not crowding tonight because of the girls, the music or the beer, but because Manfred W. Jürgens has invited to the first Hamburg one-picture exhibition.
At the far corner of the corner, the painter with red curls is sitting, has been signing autographs for hours and shining all over his face. 'Incredible', he calls through the babble of voices, 'I've never seen anything like that in any gallery, a new audience every two hours.' In addition to Jürgens, the boss hanging on the wall, the landlady Erna Thomsen, large-format in oil and the real Erna confusingly similar. Because Jürgens paints so meticulously and lifelike as Alband Dürer or Hans Holbein. "Objective Realism" is the name of this style. He seems somewhat anachronistic in the hectic 21st century art scene. But Jürgens is the cutie. 'Recently somebody said that I'm trend-resistant', he laughingly and repeatedly says in a genius way: 'trend-resistant - that's right.'
Because Jürgens paints not only as detailed as the old masters, he also takes as much time. With infinite patience, he applies layer after layer of (even mixed) colors. For up to twelve hours a day, he sits in front of the canvas with a paintbrush and a paintbrush. Months pass before a picture is finished. To paint that way is actually "a joke to life," says Jürgens with cheerful self-irony. But his wife Barbara, a civil engineer, financially supports him. And so the painter may only listen to his own voice. 'I hope never to get into a situation to change my style because of the market.' Jürgens also falls out of the zeitgeist with his concept of the one-picture exhibition. His painting of cow Soraia he presented on an alp in Switzerland. For the unveiling at 1900 meters, art lovers from all over the world came, alpine farmers and the model itself. When Jürgens confronted the cow with her life-size portrait, this trotted to the canvas and gave her own image a hearty kiss. Anyone who attended this touching event is still talking about it today.
How different is art in contrast to a gallery. Recently he was in the Louvre in Paris, says Jürgens and makes a face. You're in the world's most famous collection of paintings and people do not even bother with it, they rush through, get photographed next to the Mona Lisa and do not even look at them ". That was downright depressing. He does not want to have anything to do with this kind of hectic art enjoyment.
In Jürgens' actions, however, no one is overloaded with impressions. 'I have never seen so many relaxed faces as tonight before a painting,' says Jürgens, pointing to the happy crowd in the silver sack. 'People take their time to look, they talk to each other, nobody is in stress, because he thinks he has to see all the other pictures as well.' The fact that the 86-year-old landlady Erna Thomsen is personally present and that one can talk about art and pub business with the beer with the original Hamburg, naturally enhances the charm of the evening. Because Jürgens has an eye for the inconspicuous heroes of everyday life, and he always paints only people who personally mean something to him. He does not let 'nasties and self-overestimators' on his canvas, he says, for the rest he takes a lot of time.
530/5000 So it's never just about art at its exhibitions, but always about encounters. And because Jürgens has already painted all sorts of characters - goths, prostitutes, actors, journalists - and they like to follow his invitations again and again, you hardly meet anywhere a more colorful audience. In any case, the evening in the silver bag will be a long one, leaving many guests with more memories than many a visit to the Kunsthalle. It is quite possible that the trend-resistant painter sets a new trend with it.
In advertising, the cow is usually purple, on our current title beige and brown like tenderly melting milk chocolate, also has a nice curl on the forehead. The cow is called Soraia and was portrayed by the painter and photographer Manfred W. Juergens on the Alp Wispile in Switzerland. How it came about, you will learn in the following story, written down by the artist himself.
At an exhibition opening of my Hamburg painter friend Karmers, I got to know the Swiss editor of the weekly paper DIE ZEIT Urs Willmann. Of course, we talked about cows and delicious Swiss high mountain cheese. And since we were both custodians in our past lives, one in the mountains and the other by the sea, we had something in common. So, we came to his surf tip: www.kuhleasing.ch. So far, I have spent my holidays on coasts, rivers and in the cultural metropolises of this world. An interest in mountains did not exist in me. But then, according to Willmann's tip in the net, I saw the leasing cow with the name of the princess. Only one letter was misspelled. Other countries other letters.
Self-confidently, the alpha animal from the website looked past me and my wife. Stately she was and also old. Very old. And my thought was, 'Just take care of yourself. Please do not let slaughter you. I will paint you!' For years my wife wished holidays in the mountains. Now she had me. I wanted to paint this proud cow. So, we drove to Switzerland to Gstaad.
That's where Roger Moore and Liz Taylor go on holiday, and Michael Jackson used to be there too. But my princess lived on top of Alp Wispile, a half-hour cable car away. Then the almost one-hour walk on the ridge through fog and haze. It rained. A lonely hut at the height of 1,835 meters emerged in the fog. Here should my vacation take place? My mood was between the cow dung on the ground.
That changed abruptly when we entered the alpine hut drenched and welcomed by the peasant family. Sometimes reality surpasses any idea. We fell through time and arrived in the year of construction of the hut – 1737. The 400 liter copper kettle on the fire is the vital heart and center of the hut and proudly bears the coinage 1881. He would like the Gaul Miraculix.
Nescafé, sliced cheese and first language tests. Between the North German Platt and the dialect of the Bernese Oberland are some worlds. After three days we understood the first word in the conversation of the family: Fffly
The sun was blowing the dull gray fog the first evening, and we suddenly stood above the clouds on one of the most beautiful roofs in the world. The next morning, we were asked, 'Excuse me, you want to stay a week? With pleasure, red wine is here, but on average the people spend the night in the straw, and then it goes on. They get bored quickly. Here, people only have themselves, nature and animals - that is too little for modern man.' Electricity is supplied for a few hours daily by the diesel generator for the milking machine and for charging the mobile phones. In the evening, there is only the kerosene lamp, the card game, the conversation and sleep.
Hefti Hans was born 43 years ago on the alp. She, dairymaid Ruth, comes from the neighboring alp and never wanted to marry a farmer. Especially not one from the neighborhood. But they just met, work a lot, are happy and still in love. Colleague Margit helps the two of them on the alp, as well as twenty-year-old nephew Michael and, during school holidays, fourteen-year-old son Lorenz and nine-year-old son Oliver. The seventeen-year-old daughter Linda does an apprenticeship as a saleswoman in the valley and only gets on the mountain on her days off. Have I ever seen such happy faces?
The valley operation, the brothers Hans and Robert have taken over from the father. While Hans and Ruth run the dairy on Prealp and Alp in the summer months, their brother's family stays in the valley and takes care of the hay harvest. The families cannot live entirely on agriculture alone. Incidentally, the brothers still have to get involved in forestry and construction, but the fact that they can earn the lion's share to support both families with nineteen dairy cows and ten cattle is unthinkable by German standards.
After a week of cow bells, Swiss-German and panoramic views Hans brought us yet again from our blissful calm: 'You really cannot take the cheese with you, that's impossible, it has to mature, at least a year.' And so it became clear to us that such a cow-leasing is not possible with just one alpine summer. From 800 digital cow photos and numerous drawings, the mountain animal was created in the north over winter and spring on a wooden board in traditional technique and life-size.
While painting, I thought: Too bad that Soraia cannot see the painted picture, because I had no desire for a lavish large exhibition. But then came the idea of my first one-image exhibition. The ingredients: A Swiss mountain, an old stable, a cow named Soraia and a painter with panel painting.
I called in Switzerland: 'Hans, I painted your cow. She is beautiful. Soraia must see the painting! We would like to make an exhibition on your Alp. ' 1,000 posters and postcards were printed. The Swiss Tourism Association in Gstaad and Bern was so friendly and distributed the advertising painter delivery.
In the movie 'The Fabulous World of Amélie', Amélie's father receives photos of his traveling garden gnome. What a nice idea. So, we showed the painting different places and photographed it.
The most beautiful encounter on the way to the cow took place in the Nuremberg Albrecht Duerer House. Since I am a Duerer fan since I was five years old, I really wanted to show the cow his home. In order to keep the memory of him alive, real actresses are guiding through the house as Duerer's wife Agnes and telling about the painter's history and the mood of his time.
We were lucky, our Agnes was smart and charming, and when she came to our panel, she said, 'Oh, how nice. This picture should be seen by my husband. He would like her! ' But the painter lord was not at home, so I would have loved to talk to him about his rabbit.❯ Here you can see Soraia on the way to the Gstaad.
Finally back on the alp. It smells soothing to herbs, humble bumblebees, the sun shines on paradise. It is very quiet. The cows sleep during the day and eat at night. So they are less plagued by the flies.
How great it is to see these people again! After reading our press release, which we had distributed in Switzerland, Hans was unsure: 'What do we have to do there at such an exhibition?' 'Nothing. Maybe selling milk and cheese to the guests.' 'Then it's good.'
While drinking wine in the evening he muses: 'Tell me, Manfred, can it be that you are as free in your painting profession as I am here on the alp?' We had almost forgotten about our extensive advertising on the Alp. Likewise, we forgot that down there in the valley the world makes vacation and that in all hotel rooms for days our cow postcards were.
The day awakened. We had breakfast in the sun. The question of the morning: Who will drive in this heat half an hour cable car and then, depending on age and fitness, hiking thirty to sixty minutes to a single picture in front of a stable on this mountain?
But then they came. First French, then Swiss, American, English, German, Japanese, Italian, Dutch. For two days. From sunrise to sunset. Painter and model were present in a surprisingly international exhibition. Not only art and painting lovers came, but also wealthy cattle dealers and experienced ranchers who collect only cow pictures.
We could have sold the picture many times. But no, it also wants to hang in our apartment in the future. You do not sell a princess.
An art historian drew my attention to the 1981 oil painting of ❯ Mark Tansey 'The Innocent Eye Test' owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which casts ironic views on art and its critics. As a reminder, we recreated the Tansey oeuvre on the alp.
After a week of exciting and relaxing alpine holidays, hugs, tears and the promise to see each other again. And goodbye Hans' words: 'Oh yes, you know Manfred, no one will know you after your death as a painter, but my Soraia, she will become age-old and world famous.'