31/04/2007 Everyone asks me, ‘what did I think about Berlin?’ Everyone is interested. It is the buzz city now. Especially now, I should add, because Berlin, the city, the word, conjures up a charged frisson and always has. In all those different worlds and situations. What I think is that Berlin now is like Paris was in the early twentieth century, when writers, painters, thinkers went to live in Paris. It was cheap, sympathetic, and easy for artists to know each other. They learnt the language, lived a bohemian life style, it was the place to be. That is what Berlin with all its energy and forward hopes is today. The place to be. Cheap, friendly, fun. Not the place to make big bucks or get international fame. New York or London has money. Berlin is broke. At this moment though, for lifestyle and for adding to one’s contemporary cachet it has got to be Berlin. That’s why there are so many English, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Portuguese, Siberian, Ukrainian, Brazilian, and French, you name it, artists, writers, film-makers, celebrities there in little tight knit, mutually encouraging expatriate groups. Many artists now have as their addresses, ‘lives in Berlin and London’, or ‘spends his time between Berlin and New York’, and so on. It is wonderful to be special and part of the hot thing. Jessica Rankin, Sydney, New York, now resident in Berlin, showing at White Cube Hoxton Square, film director Stephen Frears, in Berlin after The Queen, Brad Pitt has just bought a penthouse near where I was, Tor Strasse, as examples. Very exciting. Go there. Join in.
(Tip: If you are going to be there longer than six months, learning German will make every thing easier.)
21/04/2007 How can I sum up my experience? It was huge and with so many intense layers. I am going to have to think about it.
A lot of serious work got done and deeply explored. I was completely immersed in the paintings. It was exhilarating to be able to live with the works the whole time. It was such a rich stupendous, privilege to see and experience so much, such marvels. The people, the culture, the museums were amazingly stimulating. And so kind to me.
The fact that I was there for a finite time, four months, meant that each day, each person and experience was precious, to be grasped. For me and also for the people I met. So it was made the most of and valued.
There was also the tremendous experience of isolation, examining myself, loneliness, questioning, not always easy at all.
An image of this could be that I was put into a black dark empty box. At first I could see nothing at all. Gradually I could sense something, and then I got some matches and was able to see glimpses. With the glimmerings I felt more at ease. Then I got a lighter, could see more, and began to make adjustments. With the help of the lighter I found a large bright candle that shone steadily lighting up much more and I began to settle in making a kind of nest. When I was then lent a halogen white light it illuminated brilliantly into many corners that had been unknown before. I became exhilarated and astonishingly happy. I felt I was at home. An exciting fertile interlude unfolded. Then the halogen light’s plug was switched off, the candle blown out; I had to leave. My box, that ‘home’ is still there, as is the candle and the electricity, but I am not.
I am here in London with the Berlin experience inside me, a high light vision. My perceptions, knowledge and prejudices altered, my vision enlarged. How precisely this will affect my future work I don’t know but I shall continue to observe and cherish.
20/04/2007 Rough, reduced, poetic, essential, contemporary and real, Berlin. The equality, accepting friendliness of people, low cost of living, ease of getting about at all times of the day or night, the safety and lack of harassment, means it is an easy place to live. Going anywhere alone is normal, acceptable, and safe. In these trendy eastern districts of Prenzlauerberg, and Kreuzberg, you can go out without feeling self-conscious or that you have to conform to a prescribed sense of style. They may be spectacularly way out or dress in jeans every day, anything goes and people don't judge each other on how they look.
Berliners have a very practical approach to everyday living, which makes life easier. Because of the honour system, public transport works efficiently, as well as being much cheaper than in London. There are no queues nor bottlenecks getting on and off the trams and underground; cars are much less used. It’s either bicycles, or trams, U-Bahn or S-Bahn, or buses. Traffic flows and also one almost always gets a seat so it all is very much easier and pleasanter travelling around. Good bike lanes make a difference, as enormously, does tolerance of bicycles by pedestrians, bus drivers and cars. They don’t try to kill cyclists, nor do they steal bicycles. In fact honesty and everyone obeying the rules is the norm. All of which is most striking and makes life much easier just like the low rents. Property prices may well start to increase, of course, over the next ten years.
People are very health-conscious here, especially about food. There are big Bio health food supermarkets, as well as weekly organic markets. Organic food is not as expensive compared to non-organic as it is in the UK. In the Health food shops and chemists there are not shelves of vitamin or supplements, except for pregnancy, although funnily enough, there are shelves of alternative herbal remedies and tisanes to cure various health ills. That’s what they do instead of putting extracts into capsules; they make a brew.
Recycling is very easy and is an everyday part of life. The Kaiser Supermarkets give money back on plastic water bottles and the glass beer bottles and crates. Mostly beer in bottles, is what they drink, even young girls as well as boys carry open bottles of beer and drink from them on the U-Bahn or walking down the road. Like all alcohol here it is very cheap. From 0.30 to 0.5 euros per bottle and then a refund back. A good wine may cost from 3.99 to 6.99 euros and cheaper, drinkable wines start at about 2 euros in the supermarkets. The best German champagne, Sekt, (like a prosecco), was 3.99 euros special offer at Christmas and now is 6.99. It must be because Germany doesn’t tax alcohol as much as the UK does.
Berlin is the only city I know where people leave furniture, shoes, clothing, books, anything they don't need any more, on the street for whoever can make use of it. This is not rubbish or junk but things that they don’t need any more and someone else can use. It is also not considered fly tipping and against the law with heavy fines, but rather a sharing decency. On the U-Bahn on a bench there may be a pair of pink trainers or on a street corner there may be a pair of green shoes standing there. I got all the furniture for the studio from heaps of furniture in the snow.
It is probably one of the best cities in the world to be poor and depressed in. Or just to enjoy. There is space and the energy of expectancy that they’re on the up. Berlin. My Berlin. Berlin for Artists. Berlin for Life.
19/04/2007 Frauen die malen, drücken sich vor der arbeit. (Women who are artists don’t want to do housework). Instead of a couple of hours of cleaning and then a pleasant lunch, maybe even a last visit to a museum, it was clean, clean, all day. Once one starts to look for dirt marks they are everywhere and have to be cleaned in a systematic way or else one just treads marks back in. The refrigerator and the stove to be cleaned, drawers to be emptied, everything off the walls, packing to be done. Well it couldn’t all get in to those ridiculously small cases. How did it all get here? What I couldn’t take back I left behind, giving some to Cathy, in the studio upstairs and the rest I put at the top of the entrance foyer stairs in that wonderful Berliner way: CDs, marking pens, tapes, films, new socks not the right colour, tinned foods, masonry nails, bottles of beer, plastic basins, paper plates, extra cups, etc. All useful stuff but I had to fly back.
Leave when you love a place, means it will always stay with you. So Berlin is part of me now.
Au revoir. Remember me.
18/04/2007 Louisa Hutton the architect travels so much on projects around Germany and back and forth to the UK. That she hadn’t been able to come to the two receptions or my exhibition, but wanted to see my paintings. She wonderfully came over, bearing chocolate, and we hunched over my laptop looking at the images I had taken with my not very good digital camera and not a proper set-up. I took a close-up photo of her so that I could include her in My Berlin Wall (Faces), even though she doesn’t like photographs of herself. What a superbly good sport she is. We discussed the use of reds and particularly with metallic gold and silver. Later she emailed me an image of a vermilion Japanese temple.
Marcus, and Wiebke dropped in with a photograph of Marcus’s Superman being ‘Birdie’, and a catalogue of Wiebke’s installations. They are both such fine artists. She had filled an enormous white helium balloon with a light inside so that it glowed and had moon markings on it, so that for one night she had her own moon flying over Berlin. Inside a display board outside the Goëthe Institute in New York she had made a lit window with German curtains to put a bit of Berlin there. At an abandoned factory on the river she had made an aquarium of water as a ‘window’ with the water coming by pipe from the river Spree so that it was moving as well as artificially lit. Fabulous.
In the evening the Architect and I went to visit the documentary film-makers, Mathilde and Dirk in their fabulous apartment on the roof. Chloe the nervous, intense Mexican writer was there too. These are such wonderful, intellectual people I feel as if we are very old friends. There was so much to talk about, not least that Mathilde and Dirk are in the throes of arranging to get married in Paris, after ten years together. They are so wonderfully suited, and look so very happy together.
What a astonishing last few weeks I’ve had, with the pressure off and these marvellously intelligent people to discuss things with.
17/04/2007 One of the things I had to do before leaving Berlin was to get a haircut by the same stylist as the elegant blonde from Café Kakao, that specialist hot chocolate place. This was “Herr Hasel”, Harald, on Kopenhagener Strasse, off Schonhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg, what a cool ambience. Chic, laid-back, friendly and run-down. Very Berlin. There were print-out city images blue-tacked to the walls, a white piano, commodious tobacco coloured settee, and a wonderfully understated relaxed feeling encompassing everyone from camp handsome guys to a young mother with her children. The haircut was exactly right. I felt very good afterwards.
An ex-Chelsea artist was having an exhibition at the Kollaboratif Galerie of a light-hearted measurement of the distance between London and Berlin. For example: how many yawns on the journey over, or pages of ‘War and Peace’ read if she had been reading it at say 9.6 pages an hour, the number of bridges a bird would cross as the crow flies. This was illustrated with a large Joseph Beuys type blackboard mathematical diagram, as well as photographs and maps. It was again typically Berlin, being supportive to artists, giving them a chance to exhibit. There are economic restraints but the opportunities foster bubbling creativity. Rents are comparatively so cheap that many artists set up their own galleries to show their work and those of their friends, like this one with such a friendly atmosphere.
16/04/2007 Walking around the streets here I marvel at what a very different city it is now compared to four months ago. Instead of looking at places for a last time, I keep saying oh look I never saw that place before. Some places do only open after the winter is over, but others were just closed in on themselves so that one wasn’t aware of their existence.
15/04/2007 As people had come into the opening viewing of the exhibition I had taken a up close quick photo of everybody’s face as if for I.D. security and also did the same for the Finissage. I had two sets of these images printed out, One set of prints were white tacked onto the wall of the anteroom studio making My Berlin Wall (Faces), that I’ll reproduce later in London. All those different faces in more or less the same format were very intriguing. All those individuals so varied yet making up a community of interests. They make a good set all together. Today I went around the Milchhof giving the artists that had come, their copy of the Berlin Wall Face photo. I still can’t register that all this is coming to an end, just as it is getting better and better. When people ask me questions like “when are you coming back to Berlin?” or “Will you come to live in Berlin?” or “What will you do when you return to London?” My mind goes blank. I’m in Berlin that is the reality of the moment and somehow I can’t project any further forward, not yet. Or don’t want to cut the time shorter by projection.
14/04/2007 All day people were dropping by and being really friendly discussing my paintings. There is such a good feeling here because they are serious artists who work hard, and that makes a bond between us. Through working and visiting each others studios, we gradually got to know each other in spite of the language barrier. Now I shall miss them all very much when I go.
13/04/2007 Taking the paintings off the stretchers and rolling them up. The Milchhof really came into its own with friendliness and helpfulness. First, big handsome burly bearded Mark asked the driver of the van going to the Köln Art fair, also Mark and a sculptor, if he could take my stuff to the shippers, as well as giving me good practical advice. Mark, second, said he would get all the stuff into the van and then possibly he could take the rolls on the roof. Meanwhile Volka, kind Volka, offered to drive all my stuff to the shippers for me. Fantastic. We got the stuff together and set off at four o’clock. Each painting in a plastic drainpipe weighed 4.55 Kg, just as George Pusenkoff had predicted. The four small paintings in a package weighed 6.4 Kg, and the incredibly heavy suitcase that I could not lift weighed 35.33 Kg. It all went well because of the great fellow feeling support and help those artists gave me. That definitely is very Berlin.
Another pleasure was visiting Lisabetta’s studio and seeing her delicate soft works. Very lovely and wonderful for me, as Lisabetta is also a colourist working through intuition, and not from a closed, imposed system. We had a lot to discuss about the materials, technique, and general approaches to our art.
Cathy the artist in the studio above me, came to tell me about some private views opening tonight, and Carlos, the architect and artist and I had a discussion about our work as he had visited my website. All in all just the sort of rewarding inter-relation with other artists that one longs for and normally doesn’t often happen. It was a terrific feeling.
Late in the warm evening we stopped for an ice cream outside on Orderbergerstrasse and were astounded by the number of people, (and bicycles parked), in the Biergarten next door. Exactly like a Renoir painting of the masses at leisure, or a Pleasure garden this Biergarten was closed up, invisible, until a week ago. How magical it all is.
12/04/2007 The Finnissage. More face shots for My Berlin Wall to put up in London. The people who came that had been to the Opening, got their prints of their first shot to take home. It was fun. I was so delighted to see people like the lovely helpful serious girl from the art shop, and beautiful French Cecile taking time off from her Le Monde reportage, as well as the artists from the Milchhof and elsewhere that have been so significant to my experience of Berlin. I have been truly fortunate getting to know all these different and fascinating artists, writers, architects, film-makers.
11/04/2007 St. George’s English Bookshop with its inimitable charm and weekly film showings. How I will miss you. This week it was WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960) by Mikio Naruse, it is a film about Keiko, a bar hostess in Tokyo’s Ginza district. At age 30 she is senior to almost all her colleagues. Her life is in crisis as she is nearly too old for her profession of tending to lascivious and drunk businessmen and pretending to enjoy it. Well yes a lot of the films are depressing, but so gratifying, satisfying, extending one in so many ways. It is a whole enriching experience. St. George’s English Bookshop Würther Strasse, Tuesday nights. Go there!
10/04/2007 Leipzig on the other hand, was a moving experience seeing the old Baroque buildings and the churches where Bach’s music was created and performed. At the Bildenden Künste I was able to see more of the much sought after Leipzig School painters. Neo Rauch being the most impressive, and disturbing. They carry an unsettling conviction as if something murderous or impure might happen at any moment or has happened already. Peter Doight has a slight, much weaker feeling in his works, but there is some connection in mystery or ambiguity to this.
The Stasi Headquarters there was fascinating with its low-tech displays of espionage and grim control. Frightening but ludicrous with its wigs and false noses, jars of body odours collected so that sniffer dogs could track the victims, photographs of surveillance on foot, bicycle, cars, photographs taken by secret cameras in a book or from their pockets wearing false moustaches and spectacles. It sounds comic but the purpose was deadly. In this building all the DDR prisoners awaiting the death sentence were kept in bleak small cells. The entire killings, executions, were carried out in Liepzig. While they were subjugating and terrorising the people the Stasi building had a bowling alley and cinema for their own staff. It is said that the Stasi buildings all had the same unique smell and that it still lingers here. Anyone who was interrogated or kept in a cell there recognises it instantly. Was it the paint, or linoleum, or brutality and fear mixed? To me it had a musty institutional slight smell, but would I recognise it again?
09/04/2007 Two quotes:
Nietzsche- ‘Collective celebration has been replaced by the hell of individual existence’.
Nora Ephron- ‘Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from’.
A couple of weeks ago I’d gone to the exhibition opening of photographs of the Vanuata Islands and met the designer who turned out to be a New Zealander. Today, she came over to the Milchhof for a visit with her thirteen-month son. Typically she’d been living in London, had come to Berlin for a symposium and liked the friendly, laid back openness of this easy to get around smaller city. When an offer of a job in Berlin was made she took it, but not speaking any German when she came, she found it difficult at the beginning. Meeting the German photographer who is now her partner, learning German, she has now settled in . Still finding the long darkness of the winters oppressive, however, she tries to visit New Zealand at that time if she can. Since I have lived in New Zealand and know the exhilaration of its’ clear air, as well as having just gone through a Berlin winter I can sympathise, although we were both agreed that Berlin is the easiest, friendliest place. As well as talking about New Zealand, we both had a rave about Berlin’s cheapness and easy living. Berlin has come alive now that spring is here. It is a totally different, open place now. Instead of emptiness and darkness the streets are filled with people day and night, eating, reading, talking, drinking, all outside as much as possible. Still, it is the longed-for contrast that makes it so delightful, so precious that Berliners take advantage of it immediately and rush outdoors. To me, Berlin looks a completely different city from what it was when I arrived in December. That said, today was actually not that brilliant, spitting rain, nevertheless, I decided to go to Potsdam to see Einstein’s Tower. It s often cited as one of the few landmarks of expressionist architecture, and is an astrophysical observatoryin the Albert Einstein Science Park in Potsdam designed by architect Erich Mendelsohn, it was built for astronomer Erwin Finlay Freundlich to support experiments and observations to validate Albert Einstein's Relativity Theory.
What I hadn’t realised before I set off was how far I had to walk. At the train station where there is no tourist bureau of course, with the help of some young kids and a passing man, possibly a railway employee, I was faced in the right direction and told, ‘must walk, keep going to left.' In fact, there was that arterial road desolation in front of the station, with the town some distance away and the Wild Park woods far away in the opposite direction. Walking for an hour up hill, I thought, ‘surely it will be marked’. Wrong. Finally, stopping a lone cyclist, I asked, ‘Einstein’s Tower bitte?’ He said I had to go back then turn right then left. A completely unmarked track had me doubtful but I saw a man and a dog coming towards me and asked, ‘Einstein’s Tower bitte?’ Evidently it was the right direction and I had to just keep going. All I could see was trees. No tower. Until I saw a gate, locked, and wire fencing stretching as far away. Those people I asked told me what I had asked for, directions to the tower. I hadn’t asked is it open to see? Following the wire fencing for quite awhile I still couldn’t see anything but trees. So it was in there somewhere. The guidebooks don’t even mention it so I can’t grumble that they didn’t say that it was closed all winter, not opening until May.
Looking it up on the Internet later, one can see its’ distinctive penile extension form that must have been one of Foster’s inspirations for his ‘Gherkin’ in London. Its’ a guy thing, but amazing. Wish I could have seen it.
Ditto with the Bildergalerie at Sans Souci, which is the oldest surviving royal gallery in Germany. A large number of paintings were taken by Russia in 1946, some have been returned, but perhaps not enough, as the guidebooks don’t mention it. I won’t know because again, it wasn’t open. Sans Souci was not yet open for the Summer season, its statuary all boxed up and hidden from view. I had walked back through the woods, then past empty derelict buildings along the canal into the town centre. Even if one had thought ahead and brought a picnic lunch, the windy, spitting rain wasn’t conducive to any such dallying. It was an enormous amount of walking. In the town central area, the Dutch Husimand area with its’ fine-looking long street of Dutch style houses was built to attract Dutch settlers, who didn’t come because Holland at that time was very wealthy and Potsdam poor. Now it is a a historical novelty, rather twee. I had come at the wrong time. I trudged back to the railway station along its bleak approach.
My tip is: Don’t bother to go to Potsdam. (or if you do, go in summer, and not on week-ends).
08/04/2007 Today I worked on the photographic images for my Berlin Wall Faces installation that I’ll put up for the Finissage. It was not a great day weather-wise being cold, wet and windy, but I climbed up the Mauerpark hill and had all the swings to myself. No one else was about. One swing creaks, another is stiff, another heavy, but finally like Goldilocks I found one that was just right and swung myself up and out over Berlin on a wet Easter day.
07/04/2007 The Academie der Kunste second part of the Site and Space exhibition is at the Hanseatenweg building that has a Henry Moore Reclining Figure outside. There was a time when no building was complete without a Henry Moore outside it. They’re dotted around the world all over the place, but does anyone ever look at them now and say ‘I want to make sculpture just like that?’ This exhibition is really a catchall to show anything they can get hold of, which I don’t mind, as there are terrific things in it. Here we had an extremely fascinating mixture of Man Ray photographs, Picasso sculpture, painting and drawings, Marcel Duchamp’s reproduction of ‘The Large Glass,’ a film of the Alexander Calder ‘Circus’, a film of a Samuel Beckett play, Morandi paintings, Klee paintings, Max Ernst early paintings, an exquisite tiny drawing by Malevich as well as paintings, a large sculpture by Louise Bourgeois of what looked like a large bunch of penises bunched together like asparagus, perhaps growing like that, but carved or cast in what looks like a rose marble but could be a polymer. So all of that, did I mention Matisse, Bonnard, and Nauman all in the same breath too? What stood out apart from the intense pleasure at looking at a good selection of works each from all the above, was a shockingly authentic film by Jean Genêt, ‘L’Amour’. It distils poetry out of violence and is compelling to watch, however brutal. A very long way from contemporary camp anonymity. That plus films by Gordon Matta-Clark and others by Jean Painlevé suggesting the Fourth Dimension, were riveting. What a lot of great works to see. One film of Gordon Matta-Clark showed him pasting up advertisements and then graffiti ‘From the USSR with Love’ on the Western side of the Berlin Wall when it was pristine white, and being questioned by the guards as to what he was doing. This was in 1976 and that means that he must have been the first to do graffiti on the wall, so starting the avalanche that followed. Historically that is important. It was touching to see the West Berliners queuing up to go up a staircase to a platform contraption so that they could look over the wall at the East where perhaps their home had been. They weren’t giving even a glance at what Matta-Clark was doing with his art pasting and spraying cleverness. Like Banksy at the Israeli Palestinian wall. Maybe it takes outsiders just to kick things off.
06/04/2007 A last bowl of borsht with Tom at Gorky Park as he’s off to England for a few weeks break from being a Berliner artist.
Clement Greenberg writes: ‘I think a poor life is lived by anyone who doesn’t regularly take time out to stand and gaze, or sit and listen, or touch, or smell, or brood, without any further end in mind, simply for the satisfaction gotten from that which is gazed at, listened to, touched, smelled, or brooded upon.’
Uniquely, these past four months in Berlin have been for me, saturated with all that. Time and space given my full attention as the days and light unfolded.
05/04/2007 Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’: Let us at least talk of us, you who are visual, grim though it may be. Remaining silent is grimmer, all truths that are kept silent become toxic.’
His troubled mind seems to float on a sea of violent hurt anger; the open wound delineating tenderness and much sensitivity, yet easily swings to sepsis. Undoubtedly, careful reading and searching thoughtfulness can dig into oneself for interpretation of meaning, going beyond the surface slogans that appear to promote horrors. As when it is written, ‘For far too long woman has harboured a slave and a tyrant within.’ So one thinks about that as well as, ‘Die at the right time.’ But when he writes, ‘you are going to women? Then don’t forget the whip!’ even if preceded by ‘hold its mouth shut: or else it will cry over loudly this little truth.’ Then it would take a huge amount of exploratory rationale for me to accept that as reasonable or valid. Stinking chauvinism I say.
I am going to take a break from all that deep searching, and with relief read volume four of ‘Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Modernism with a Vengeance’, edited by John O’Brian, University of Chicago Press. He writes intelligently, simply, joyfully, with conviction. I especially enjoy his ripping into other critics and putting them right.
04/04/2007 Coming home to the studio last night the road was blocked off by the police and fire engines. Trams were piled up, about half a dozen waiting both ways in a jam. Apparently a large tree had just fallen right across the Kastanienallee stopping all traffic. When I went back the next day to view the scene there was no trace of it. Everything had been tidied up without a trace.
03/04/2007 Last night I went to a B&W German film (with English sub-titles) at the St. George English Bookshop. Under the GDR, it had been banned for being critical of the judicial system. Filmed and set in the late sixties and early seventies it showed the drabness of East Berlin at that time. There must have been a few Germans in the audience, as during some scenes that talk about terrorists sabotaging the safety of the East there were loud barracking shouts heckling the screen characters.
02/04/2007 Several more artists came by my studio including Ingrid Gillain who is French but lives in Berlin. There was a very rosy feeling to the day with the pressure off. At 7pm I met the lovely Landscape Architect and others at the pv of a Berlin-based duo of artists who paint pictures together, Maike Abetz and Oliver Drescher. The Opening was fun but neither of us thought much of the sort of confronting global politics using Pop culture linked to Hieronymous Bosch. To recover we went up the Berg to the Swiss Chalet and ate heartily even if not condemned men. They came to the studio afterwards so that we could have peppermint tea and another private view.
01/04/2007 April Fools Day. I sent out invitations and there is nothing but an empty room. Well no, but that would have been a good Andy Warhol trick. George Pusenkoff the Russian artist who lives in Köln came for the Opening, arriving at 1pm. When people came in they signed my exhibition book before being photographed in a close-up paraparazzi way by me. Lots of people came and it was fun. Also the German artists were very serious and analysed their reactions to my work saying what they liked about them and how they responded, which I appreciated. It is marvellous to get feed-back.
31/03/2007 Much huffing and puffing as I tidy up the studio and do trips to Kaiser to buy nibbles for the Opening of my Exhibition, ‘Consolation For Our Mortality’. Borrowing a sort of baby buggy from Marcus in the cellar, Tom helps me trundle back the cases of beer. The show looks good and I’m both relieved and excited.
In the evening I went to meet up with Carla and Tom for the Opening of Daniel Biesold’s paintings at the Koal gallery. His work interests me as he uses acrylic mediums in a layered semi-transparent way, as I too have been experimenting with for years. The monochromatic, white with hints of black or colour, paintings looked elegantly calm. However well achieved, there is still the hurdle here that I face too, of the finishing areas at the edges causing happenstance to predominate. Going on from there to the DNA gallery where a Japanese artist had his Opening showing colouring book cartoon drawings of the lives of the people where his installation had just been exhibited in Singapore. Downstairs there was a painting by Clemence Krauss, for whom Tom works as a studio assistant. The work is figurative and uses excessive build-ups of oil paint with fast drying mediums to make figures which are then cut out and glued to the canvas along with words that are made by squeezing directly from the tube. As if Auerbach or Kossuth went Pop. Not my thing, but I can see how people who rave about the sensuousness of oil paint and who like Therese Oulton’s work could like these. He sells well especially in Brazil.
30/03/2007 Yes you may well ask, the paintings are just having all those tiny touches done and that yellow one has been redone and the blue one finally, finally has that really difficult bit finished. At least I am not looking any more in case I see more that has to be changed. With my eyes shut they feel right anyway. Tom helps me put up the last painting and off we go in the afternoon to the Tier Park East Berlin Zoo. Wow. What a place. How come it is such a secret that it isn’t even in the guidebooks? It is huge, practically empty of visitors, and so wonderfully spacious, mostly only with open moats instead of fences. Animals in all their exotic splendour were revealed. Chubby furry Red Pandas, a clan of elephants playing with sticks, giraffes and my ‘own’ animal even: porcupines. As a child I had always said that if I were to be an animal as in the game that people play, I would choose to be a porcupine. My reason was that they don’t hurt anybody, neither flesh eating, nor attacking, they are vegetarians eating bark and plant. At the same time their sharp quills that they can shoot if they themselves are attacked, insure their inviolability. So they can live a peaceful existence without fear. And there they were before my eyes in this wondrous zoo. I have photo to prove it, and of the large manatees, the original inspiration for mermaids, swimming lazily underwater in an enormous open pool. This is definitely the place to go for contentment, fresh air, Nature and awe.
29/03/2007 Continuing the painting marathon, I nevertheless stopped at eight to go to the St. George’s English Bookshop on Würther Strasse where they show films once a week, putting leather couches and chairs in rows that get filled up quickly. Three euros entry for a double bill wonderfully also includes a drink. They were showing an Ingmar Bergman film starring Ingrid Bergman strangely enough but there is no relation. ‘Autumn Symphony’ is a film I’d long wanted to see, not only for the superb acting, but also for a famous scene where a piano sonata is played in turn by both the daughter first and then the mother, with the music encapsulating all the tensions of their relationship. It was excellent from that point of view, but unrelenting in portraying a woman who was so ‘selfish’ and ‘egotistical’ as to have a career as a concert pianist and so wreck both her children’s lives. Even the cerebral palsy of one of them is laid at her feet for having gone on a concert tour for three months. Does Lancet know about this? Obviously a film produced by a man and not a load of laughs. My God I don’t think the film was that old. Superb artistry but a depressing affront to my sensibilities, it made me want to mount a counter attack. All the way walking back to the studio I was trying to think from both points of view although fuming on the pianist mother’s behalf. Of course emotions aren’t logical and it is easier to blame than to accept or forgive. But what a wonderfully great bookshop for ex-pats in Berlin. They also have a lending system for books, and will buy back any books they sell. Both the people that run it are friendly and intelligent; as well one is extremely tall, dark and handsome. What more can one say.
28/03/2007 Most of the day was spent sanding, filling and repainting the damaged painting and getting the other paintings finished and hung.
27/03/2007 Bits of gaffer tape and pieces of string have been appearing in odd places around the Milchhof. One day I noticed string dangling next to the loo, another day along the window sill in the corridor, then on the floors at odd junctions and so on, more and more little scraps of gaffer tape appearing. It is strange how such insignificant stuff can become a focus. Obviously it is being videoed for an art piece, but lately it has become annoying because they don’t remove the bits of tape as they put more in another area, and the other stuff becomes dirty and scuffed from people’s feet. Is that part of the piece? To see how long before someone starts to pull it off and throw it away thus destroying someone else’s art? I’m resisting the urge, not really because of my tolerance to mess. When I first came to London during a very cold winter I was lent a studio to share, no one else using it at the time. When I arrived it had broken glass all over the floor that I duly swept up and threw in the dustbin. After a few weeks another artist turned up at the place in Primrose Hill. Well of course you guessed it, that broken glass was their artwork. So I am averting my eyes from annoying bits of tape untidily piling up in corners and corridors.
26/03/2007 What a disaster in the studio today. Probably because I had changed the colour so many times, there were so many layers that I no longer could be exactly sure where the tape ended and the paint began. At one point a whole piece of the actual painting got ripped off in the most shocking way. After practically having hysterics I realised I had to work through this. Thus began the great rescue operation. Gritting my teeth I went back to basics doing it over. Once I got to the stage that I had to let it dry, I went to Rosenthaler Platz to buy my weekly English newspaper, the Week-end Guardian 3.80 euros. Tom rang while I was there and since he was at Rosa Luxemburg Platz he cycled over and we had borsht at the Gorky Park Café. Later we met up on Zimmerstrasse near Checkpoint Charlie for the Opening of the Thomas Struth exhibition of his large photographs of people in museums looking at works of art. This show was all in the Prado, Madrid, with a lot in the Velasquez rooms. Finally I was able to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and that is to photograph someone in front of one of these works so then the person would look as if they were there too. In this case Tom at the Prado while being in Berlin. Then he took a photo of me in front of a work, but unfortunately he’d had so little sleep from being out so much, he couldn’t keep the camera steady enough. These tiny digital cameras with their delayed action are really a problem to keep steady enough to be in focus. What I need is one with anti-camera shake. Still it was fun.
After that we went on to a later opening on Tor Strasse at a gallery called Milles d’Air, run by a very affable tall French man who shows upcoming young artists. In this case the show was very much in the Martin Creed mode with witty one-liner works. There were some young art students there including two from Chelsea doing their Erasmus in Berlin. One of them, Gareth, with a ginger beard was wearing a shrunken wrinkled bright yellow shirt over a white t-shirt- I couldn’t believe it- just what I’d just read Vogue magazine had stated was the hot fashion just now! OK s0 he'd just washed the shirt and pulled it on without knowing he was a fashion plate.
25/03/2007 The invitations for the opening of my exhibition were printed today and I began sending them out. What with that and the emails, I worked until four am to get the next stage of painting done. Colour nuances again.
24/03/2007 A-N , Artist Newsletter, did an article in the magazine on my residency project , and I have had some responses. One artist who lives in Berlin now has got in touch and today I met her for a coffee at the Napolinski Cafe. Tall, forthright, loose shoulder-length brown hair, large almond shaped blue eyes she seems clear about her aims to be an artist. Having done an exchange year in Berlin and enjoyed it, on graduating from Chelsea School of Art she had.found that she had to spend her time doing a lot of jobs just to pay for her rent, not being able to have a studio nor to spend much time doing her own work. After three years of this the opportunity came up to come to Berlin so she took it. Rents are much lower here so it makes it a lot easier for artists. What she hadn’t realized is how long it would take her to settle in. Not speaking any German, after nine months of being in Berlin she is gradually picking it up. She has finally found a place to live that she really likes, is doing a curatorship of a new small gallery in exchange for a ‘free’ studio on the premises, and is picking up from play school a four year old child and taking care of her until the mother comes home at seven pm. This earns her sufficient money to allow her to live and to paint. After a time she will find a separate studio as she finds the situation however convenient still confining on her freedom. A bold confident mover, she gives the impression of being capable and direct.
In the evening there was an opening of the third exhibition to be at her gallery, so I arranged to meet Tom there. Green helium filled balloons covered the ceiling and the walls of this tiny brightly lit gallery, were covered with photographs of the beautiful forests of an archipelago of islands between Fiji and Australia, called Vanualu. It looked rather like the Bush in New Zealand. In fact the Designer half of the Designer-Photographer duo is a New Zealander. Between the green balloons and the tiny baby on her shoulder we had a natter about living in Berlin. The German Photographer and tiny baby meant I didn’t have to ask her about why she stayed on here after a residency.
Tom and I went on to have dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant Saigon at Rosa Luxemburg Platz, which was so deliciously fulsome that I took home what I couldn’t eat there in a most convenient package.
23/03/2007 This was the first time I’ve been to Ackerstrasse which is surprising as it is just one street over parallel to Kastienallee that I go up and down all the time. It is funny how one sticks to the known paths unless one consciously makes an effort not to, or unless there is a reason to go there. Like this evening when I was going to a fashionable Italian restaurant, Locando Pane to have dinner with an architect, partner in an enormously successful German practice. On Ackerstrasse there is also a most formally elegant Schinkel church so that is another reason to go there. And a supermarket that has a large tank of huge fish swimming around. If you don’t mind being an executioner, and of course it is hypocrisy otherwise if you eat fish, then you buy really fresh fish just by saying ‘kill that one for me’.
However I must confess, hypocritical or not, it would make me squeamish to do it myself.
Getting to the restaurant first as the unexpected snow was delaying everyone, I was a bit nervous as the buildings done by Sauerbruch and Hutton are so enormously prestigious, but the instant I saw her come in I liked her enormously. First of all she is immensely, openly intelligent and friendly, not at all pretensions which I had feared. Secondly she is English, which I hadn’t known, brought up in Norfolk. Her husband is German and they met at the AA in London. Their buildings use a lot of colour that interests me a lot. They are so contemporary and vibrant. We chatted away about all sorts of things getting to know each other and our backgrounds. Then we had a good moan, i.e. discussion about how difficult it was to get the exact colour one wants, and how it changes when you do get it. I had said ‘well at least you don’t have to mix it as you get samples ready-made’. As was quickly pointed out, yes a six-inch sample is not quite the same as twenty floors of it. Quite right. In fact my difficulties with the colour charts of paints is only a miniaturization of that, and the problems are there for both. Yes the extrapolation of a small sample into a much larger area changes it entirely, but even when you sort that out another colour put next to it, or another building built next to it can throw it off unrecognisably. On top of which the light changes and the same colour looks like four other colours, and so on. You can see how we could get really stuck into this subject. And we enjoy it. These difficulties and joys are what we are involved in. What a delightful evening. Walking back to the Milchhof, the snow still softly falling, see how convenient Berlin is, one can walk home, and safely at midnight, I was gingerly picking my way in the ankle high snow, trying to avoid going into the slush, cursing my having sent back my winter boots to London prematurely, concentrating on not falling as it was extremely slippery, when I saw another woman coming towards me also lifting up her feet high as she went along. We spontaneously both burst into laughter at each other and the joy of it all. What a wonderful evening.
22/03/2007 I’m already feeling nostalgia for Berlin. When I went into the Kunstler Magazin for yet more paint, I thought ‘oh in a month I’ll not be here coming to this convenient art shop with the nice auburn haired girl. I will have vanished from the Berlin life.’ I am being reminded of what is going on in the world away from this, the London world, and the very different world that this is. Like a slice of a life, an interesting special life, but encased in a transparent glass large bubble separate from my other world and soon the life in the bubble will stop and the bubble will be stored away somewhere so that I can bring it out and look at the life inside it but I won’t be able to get inside that particular glass bubble again. No more than I can get inside the glass bubble with my four-year-old self running in the cornfield, with the sweet corn stalks higher than my head and I am enamoured with the feeling of being invisible to my mother who is trying to get me to get inside the house to go to sleep. I run and run so happily feeling ‘I can do whatever I want.’ That is what the bubbles contain, sunlit illusions of being free, liberated from real life.
21/03/2007 It’s Spring and it’s snowing. Big floppy soft whiteness quietly covering the outside world. Manfred came with his ladder to change the anteroom light bulb that blew a week ago. Now they have all been changed nothing more should need doing. The problem here is the twenty-foot ceiling so that I can’t do it myself because I don’t have such a high ladder, or any ladder. The bombshell for me, or rather since that is rather dramatic, the disappointment for me, is that Manfred won’t be here for my exhibition in April. He’s going to be working in Köln at the Art Fair. Since the majority of artists in the Milchhof are German speakers, amusing Manfred has been a main link between the whole Milchhof and me. He speaks a lot of English and is a very sociable person knowing everyone, making jokes making things easy. And now he won’t be here, that is upsetting for me, but can’t be helped. It is strange, now that I am in the fourth month, although with four weeks to go and all the paintings to finish still, I have that home stretch feeling of ‘what needs to be done before I go?’ Which is weird. Some people come to Berlin for a weekend and here I am again worrying about “only four weeks and time is running out”. Psychology give it a boot!
20/03/2007 Nicole Monteran is a French artist who I met through Joseph and Mary when we went on the Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin. She has lived in Berlin for over thirty years, yet remains very French in her comme il faut elegance. Her apartment in Charlottenburg is full of space, light, everything white, and lovely objets d’art placed just so. The white painted floors set off the charming pieces of decorated furniture and collected paintings. Her own work is figurative and very assured of Berliners interacting, done in that almost caricaturesque attractive way like a combination of Chagall, Matisse and Georges Groz. Another strand of Berlin life revealed. Back I went to much more messy Bohemian Mitte and again spent many hours agonising over colour values. How to achieve exactly what I envisage remains elusive. I am going to have to achieve the effect I want by not using the colour I wish I could get but using another with the final effect being still what I wanted. Or at least try.
19/03/2007 At the Milchhof Sculpture Space two English sculptors both Goldsmith graduates are opening their exhibition from 4 pm up to 9pm. So from light afternoon until pitch-black night with the range of lighting becoming a feature, especially with Charlotte McGowan-Griffin’s light installation. She now lives in Berlin but it turned out that when she used to teach at Exeter, Tom was doing his first degree and she was his tutor. Dean Kenning who uses electrified kinetics is only in Berlin for the opening. He teaches at University College Canterbury. It was all very friendly and I kept going in and out and took photographs.
18/03/2007 Thinking ahead to when these paintings will actually be finished with the colour relationships worked out, masonry nails have to be bought at OBI, (standing for German DIY) which is a bit of a walk away, but passes a second-hand shop which is always a plus. Once out it is irresistible to have lunch in the café at Rosenthaler Platz and sit around reading the weekend Guardian newspaper that comes out on Saturdays and is a treat for me lasting for a few days if rationed properly. Back at the studio the sturdy big nails refuse to penetrate the thick stone outer walls so the solution is to use the thinner masonry nails but more of them, and so the elements of the hanging are marked out and put into place. There is an air of anticipation in the studio with the new arrangement of tables and sequence of paintings lined up.
17/03/2007 Dresden is only two hours from Berlin by train, and I was looking forward to seeing the famed Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, painting museum as well as the newly rebuilt Frauenkirche faithful copy of the original destroyed in the war. Getting out of the train nothing but hideousness could be seen. During the occupation the DDR didn’t do much re-building preferring to leave the destruction as accusation of guilt against the Allies. Some of what they did do, of anonymous concrete Soviet styled buildings is being knocked down. If anything could make the horribleness of war, and revenge sink in, this should do it. Completely flattened by Bomber Harris’s firestorm raids as response to the bombing and destruction of Coventry the two cities are twinned not only by their destruction but also in their rebuilt, unappealing mediocrity. Tower blocks and shopping mall banality is all that can be seen, nothing remotely like the word Dresden conjures up, of an established historical city. Staggering past all that, one wonders how people can stand it and why wars go on. Then of a sudden the Cathedral looms, and a cluster of immensely beautiful Baroque buildings. How did this magnificence survive is then the question, and gratefulness that it did. It is an uneasy mix of revulsion at the devastation of war and awe at what remains that I feel. The replica Frauenkirche glows and its soft pastel colours enchant but however lovely, it looks too new, lacking the accretion of feeling that it will acquire over the next hundred years, if it is still there. What is not at all a mystery is why the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is so famed. Again it is overwhelming to see so many and such great works hung on the walls, packed in tightly. Rembrandts and Titians are so numerous that some you will see hung very