16/02/2007 Finally the colour is right. What had started out to be a sunshine yellow painting, which proved to be impossible to achieve the exact colour I wanted, it looked constantly too harsh, too artificial in this murkiness, has become after days of hard won changes a sort of burnt orange. But it is exactly right now and I am elated. Now move on and get another colour to perfection.
Reading Rilke’s Diaries when he first visits Florence, he writes, “I felt at first so confused that I could scarcely separate my impressions, and thought I was drowning in the breaking wave of some foreign splendour.” As in 1898 so in 2007, arrival in a new town brings the same stages of adjustment. Two months ago I observed with such intensity the smallest details of surroundings and customs, as if my life depended on it; the survival instinct. Now two months have passed and I am easy in my wanderings around Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Although it is true there is much to Berlin that I haven’t seen, there is so very much to see here that I am more than fully occupied.
If one were arriving now for a one-month stay, one would luxuriate in the scope and length of time ahead. A glorious full month to spend here in exploration, one might so exclaim. Whereas I on the other hand say 'What! Only one month more, but that is such a miserly space of time to complete so much'. Just as Woody Allen at the end of ‘Zelig’ says, “I can’t die yet I haven’t finished ‘Moby Dick’.” I say I can’t leave Berlin in a month, my paintings are only just beginning to come into shape; there are dozens of museums and galleries still to visit in Berlin, and surely Dresden and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is a must, let alone this that and the endless else of possible delights. So Time the great elusive expands and contracts. It is all a question of perception, or if you like, attitude. One more month in Berlin, what will that be like?
15/02/2007 Such a gloomy dark day, no light at all, overcast with a slight rain. Waking up I already felt down in the dumps. I can’t understand people who say, “The weather is irrelevant to me.” For myself, the weather is capable of lifting my spirits to the highest level or flinging me to the ground, like today. Not being able to get the colours right, using unknown materials is obviously getting to me. On top of which I can’t even see properly today the colour chart I made yesterday. Apart from the one-halogen lamp that is good but not enough for the studio, there are only two economy light bulbs emitting a yellowish aura hanging high up on the fifteen-foot ceiling. It makes me think of Munch and his painting “The Scream”. Never the less, I had arbitrarily made a decision yesterday so I give the painting a coat of that combination mix of oranges not certain of the outcome. I’ll see tomorrow how it looks.
The Milchhof have given me my own key to the mailbox as they say I have more mail than even the office. It is a warm feeling to see letters nestling there for me from the world outside my Berlin bubble. There is about it an echo of post-war Berlin and the airlift planes bringing contact from the West to the beleaguered part of Berlin encircled by the East. Now it is culture and friendship flying in and out, both ways.
14/02/2007 Today for breakfast I had a piece of the Ritz gluten-free bread which I toasted in the frying pan, put lots of butter, walnuts and dates on top, and then ate it with such greedy pleasure along with a banana and coffee. Now that is what I call a chic früchstück. After that elegant beginning I set to work to try and sort out the colours problem. Mixing all kinds of combinations, I made a chart, labelling quantity ratios and hues. Taking to my laptop after that I made variations of the painting in case the exact colours I needed would not come right. These variations I had printed out at the Copy shop so that I could be more distanced. Of course the printed colours are as far away from my computer colours as the actual paint materials are from anything. Sometimes these aides are nothing but more complications. I am determined to work with the actual pigments now. After the day darkened, I read and finished “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann. This great book has engrossed me for more than a month.
Now I am about to begin next, “The Diaries of Rainer Maria Rilke”, the German poet.
13/02/2007 “Bad Faith,” a French film, was concerned with a Jewish French woman becoming pregnant with her Moroccan Muslim lover and the strains on the relationship that come from that make her decide to have an abortion. Charming and beautifully shot, with lovely bed-linen I noticed. Is it just me but these issues that are so vital and contemporary relevant for us today, especially noted is the Muslim mother so less prejudiced than the Jewish French bourgeois, but aren’t they the very same issues that we heard all about as children? I remember, don’t you, the discussions, films, delicate warnings of unhappiness to follow, short stories, (remember Puccini’s’ “Madame Butterfly”), dealing with examples of English/Japanese, German/French war-brides, Jewish/Goy, Roman Catholic/Atheist, Baptist/Hindu, Black/White, Chinese/ Indian and so forth. Do things never progress? What about male/female marriages don’t they cause a lot of woe? Oh yes that’s what all the other films are about. I guess it must be so: there are, as the man said, who? Was it Shakespeare? There are only five plots in literature and films, so dumbo don’t be a superior know it all. It is how the thing is done that matters not the subject matter. Strange isn’t it? In films and Biennales as in art.
This evening we went to a Turkish restaurant at the Hackescher Höfe that looked wonderful on entering but became more touristy exotic on second glance. Never mind it was not bad and was remarkably inexpensive, so the very long wait between courses was just a grit your teeth thing but we were all longing to leave and go home to our snug beds by the end. Coming out at last from the Hasir, the prostitutes were out in force standing at regular intervals along the Hackescher Mart, with pastel coloured umbrellas like parasols shielding them from the snow. They all were trussed up immaculately wearing high white boots, tiny white skirts, white zippered jackets, thick tan foundation
make-up, and pale whitish lipstick. They were too flawlessly turned out, stood too solidly in their place, stared just past one without eye contact, their hair too perfect to be ordinary people just there by chance. It looked like performance. What was striking was that they all wore such similar spotless white costumes under their pink or turquoise umbrellas.
12/02/2007 Thanks to friends who are connected to the Berlinale, the Berlin Film Festival, I got to spend a couple of days being let into films that otherwise I might never have had a chance to see. It’s fun all that hustle and bustle, red carpets galore and the pushing and shoving to get into the most hotly tipped screenings. There are a lot of films dealing with serious issues of childhood in harsh circumstances, Jewish Russians in Israel, in “Love and Dance”, Hitler in “Mein Führer”, the concentration camps in “The Counterfeiters”. In fact, aside from the run of Andy Warhol related films, and the semi-pornographic, of which more in a minute, there seemed a lot of films about Jewish ness and the Holocaust. Is that because it was held here in Berlin or is the Zeitgeist settled on this at the moment? Oh yes semi-pornographic. There was a film called “Fucking Different New York” which I imagined to be an amusing film about New York. No. It wasn’t adjectival but descriptive, what was on the label was the content, i.e. thirteen separate episodes of gay and lezzy fucking combos as documentary, rather sad, exploitative, quite sordid, as art, as wild porno, as comic strip humour and one of narrative. This one was based on a quote from Marilyn Monroe’s autobiography where she said that once she had had sex with Joan Crawford and that afterwards Joan Crawford had wanted repeats, but when Marilyn refused, Joan had got spiteful. So it begins with a typewriter with the 'Arthur Miller' writing the story of what transpired. Marilyn being fragile posing for photographers while “The Misfits” is being filmed. Joan Crawford turning up, Arthur Miller looking through the keyhole. Fantasy lezzy sex. Joan driving off. Marilyn posing fanning herself to cool down. The End. So kinda cute, but on the whole not very enlightening. The Marilyn Monroe look-alike was more successful than the Joan Crawford look-alike.
Keeping up the glamour, apart from the actual film, (above), we dinnered afterwards around the corner from the Sony Centre at the Ritz Hotel in their Brasserie Desbrosses which is mightily stylish with wonderful atmosphere and cooking. Since I had to go through the rigmarole of no wheat, no flour and so on they let me know what I could eat and what they could adapt from the menu as most places do now – so “Sex and the City” isn’t it? – Fish soup in a tureen, no croutons, calves liver, no Berliner gravy sauce, mashed potatoes. But then they, on their own, brought a basket of gluten-free bread to the table for me. How excellent is that? At the end of the meal they wrapped up the remaining bread so I could take it home, (and toast it for a breakfast). Beyond a dream.
11/02/2007 Church bells ring several times a day in Berlin so it always makes me think it’s Sunday when it is say, eleven o’clock on a Tuesday. However on Sundays itself, the Chapel of Reconciliation commemorating the fall of the Wall, which is not far from here, rings its bells continuously for the whole morning. Remember, remember.
10/02/2007 Working with these unfamiliar paints is a problem because the colours mix differently. Again I didn’t get the yellow that I imagined I’d bought. It means that I will have to do a lot of experimentation and buy whole ranges of paint to make the colour come right. It is frustrating, but live and learn girl, I guess. Letting what I’d laid down, (it’s wrong), to dry, I went out and visited some of the dozens of commercial galleries near here on Linienstrasse and Auguststrasse to give myself a break. Floating up above these narrow old twisty streets now given over to art and mammon, is the exotic dome of the 1857 Neue Synagogue, which was attacked during Kristallnacht in1938 and then again damaged by Allied bombing in 1945.
In the evening was a dinner with the promise of a ‘typical English meal’ cooked by my English/Welsh artist friend in his rambling large flat heated by ceramic tiled coal stoves in every room, that he shares. What a treat – a large roast of leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, roasted parsnips, gravy, mashed carrots and boiled cabbage plus a lot of beer and red wine. What could be better? We all fell to eating as if we hadn’t had proper food for ages, still continuing the lively conversations. An anthropologist, a geographer, both German, a Czech studying architecture, a Bulgarian in PR, and we two painters, had lots to say about rock and roll, architecture, clubbing, the state of the world, and how we view Berlin, as well as much reminiscing of past dinners. Perplexingly the other guests all held up the parsnips and asked what they were. He had bought them in the local market but they all said they had never eaten parsnips before.
At midnight coming out, the world was heaped in fluffy white with large snowflakes swirling. I love the quiet hush that snow makes as it insulates any sound.
09/02/2007 The opening reception for the Drawing Exhibition at the Blütenweiss Galerie begins at seven. I get there a bit late so that it is completely packed. My work is well hung and can be seen directly one enters the gallery. The ambience is terrifically friendly, chummy. Manfred is also in the exhibition, and Tom has come as kindly support. Afterwards Tom and I go to a Russian restaurant near Kathė Kollwitz Platz to celebrate. It’s called Pasternak and it is the works: cut glass chandeliers, long white table cloths, serving staff in wrap around white aprons over black, a small orchestra, wailing violins and a tenor singing his heart out. Dark brown velvet swathes to keep out the draughts from doors and windows, black and white familial photographs on the walls and interspersed in the full Russian menu with its delicious vareniekas, pirogy, blinis, shashlick, cotelettes and compotes. It had character and good food. Just right for a wintry night.
08/02/2007 Snow, snow beautiful snow. Another day of doing battle with recalcitrant pigments and paint that has seeped under the tapes, but with a confidently light heart, knowing that eventually I would make them come right and the process would be inbuilt into these paintings. I left the struggle and went out into the snow to a gallery opening before going on to the wonders of the Gemädegalerie. Leaving the opening reception, I hopped on a tram M6 to get to Rosa Luxembourg Platz where I could get the U-bahn to Potsdamer Platz. After a while looking out the window, nothing looked familiar and oh no I realised it should have been an M8. This M6 took me to the middle of nowhere, a little dark vacant back street where the tram driver has his break. Can you believe that? Knocking on his window and repeating U-Bahn several times to this kindly avuncular, non-English speaking man got me some directions that I could follow for several blocks before Lo and behold I saw another tram which did take me to the U-Bahn. Of course my troubles, this blowing, frosty, stormy evening were not yet over. Potsdamer Platz is vast with arterial wide streets, vehicle traffic but not much if any pedestrians. Looking for signs, there were none that said Gemädegalerie as one might expect, but only to the Sony Centre. I for the life of me couldn’t remember which of these six roads to take nor in which direction. Would that be the way to a museum or maybe that way? It seemed hopeless. Then across the street I saw two young schoolgirls in conversation oblivious to the raging wind. Excuse me do you speak English? Drawing herself up to stiff full height, the skinny, bespectacled girl who looked like a touching, bookish Olive Oyl looked at me very severely “but of course,” she sternly replied. What a relief. They consulted and told me to go past the ‘houses’, (not deigning to name the crass commercial thousand foot high Sony Centre), to the Kultural Forum. I would certainly have gone in any other direction but that one and be still wandering today. They made a few tactical errors of prepositions and directions so that I went past rather before, down rather than up, but anyway I got a chance to visit the Mies Van der Rohe Neu Galerie again. That is also free entrance from 6 to 10 pm on Thursdays. Did I mention that was why I was so persistent in my determination to get to the Gemädegalerie this evening and not just throw up my hands saying Bother! I’ll go tomorrow. No, no, dogged determined, eking out my museum entrances’ money to pay for yellows and blues of incorrect tints I plodded on like a mad art lover with dripping hair to reach the sanctity of Rembrandt, Rubens, Watteau, Cranach, Velasquez, Gainsborough, the most beautiful Vermeer I’ve ever seen, and you know how beautiful they all are. For the Gemädegalerie that holds one of the most important collections of European art, usually closes at 6pm, but on Thursday evenings it is 10 pm closing and from 6 to 10 pm free entrance. So that is a good time to go. Also that is not widely known. It was very sparsely attended, and extraordinary, like drifting through a huge private house containing unbelievable marvels. Except that it also has in a modern glass and brick extension all that the modern museum must have of café, shop, other exhibitions and so on, hence the Kultural Forum part. The collection is remarkable, the ambience tranquil asking for nothing, though I might have spoken out for a sign
07/02/2007 Starting to mix up the paint for the first coat of the colour layer on the painting, I realised to my dismay that I had bought the wrong colour. There had been a German word underneath Kobaltblau that I ignored. It turns out that the word meant Cerulean. So another sixty euros misplaced. Having to go to Boesner the art shop that is like an Aladdin’s cave for artists, I bought a whole load of materials, this time getting the right things and colours. However it is interesting to note that I have spent four weeks returning to the flea market to look at a white bowl that I am reluctant to purchase for thirty euros, however much I admire the bowl, and yet just now I’ve spent five hundred and eighty euros without hesitation on paint. Because it’s art innit?
06/02/2007 Because of so much destruction, as much destruction in Berlin by the Soviet Occupation destroying churches and other buildings to put up the Wall, as happened during the war it is said, there is a massive amount of new building. Since the Wall was a concrete construction, concrete tends to be avoided with glass, steel, enamelled or treated metal, predominating, and wood, alternative-building methods used experimentally to great effect. There are architectural marvels aplenty as I found out today when the winsome landscape architect with his mercurial smile offered to take me on a city tour. And what an insightful, comprehensive tour it was. Not only was I shown the main places of interest but also places that he had connections to as a child of Western Germany visiting Berlin and being confronted by the regime of the East, as well as great architecture, and the landscaping in which he had been involved. So I was shown all: the impressive new Government Buildings; the simplicity and expressive clarity of the Chapel of Reconciliation, built of louvered Douglas Fir around a core of loam-clay-rammed earth with pieces from the destroyed church embedded; the reataurant where Clinton ate in Prenzlauer Berg; a glorious red and green Fire Station by Sauerbruch & Hutton; as well as a creepy tunnel that had linked the Western Wedding district to the Eastern Mitte that he had once gone through just to peep at the other side. If caught then it might have had frightening consequences, now it is used as a film location. To see the documentation centre of the Wall with its’ tall Richard Serra-like rusted steel architectural memorial, was a real experience, leading to the wire fence, then second wall with slits left to see where the guards, machine guns and dogs, had patrolled, then the main wall and observation tower; as was also the Topography of Terror where torture took place under the Nazis. What terrible times from the Burning of the Books onwards, that is still an inescapable palpable presence in Berlin.
Each magnificent embassy was more splendid than the other in the Diplomatic area. Then on Karl Marx Allee which I had imagined would look like the grey concrete block tenement buildings, very rough and oppressive as I had seen them in the Soviet Union, but instead of course, the Russians built miles of Palaces for the people showing off how wonderfully Communism was providing for the masses.
During this wide-ranging perceptive exploration he maintained his knack of introducing me again to secret Berlin, revealing the most unusual and hidden place within a seemingly closed-up empty building next to I. M. Pei’s elegant new addition: the Taghjikistan teahouse. Unbeliveable. What astounding pleasure and delicious. How could anyone even know it was there in all its carpeted lounging magnificence?
05/02/2007 Jules Olitski American Colour Field Painter died last night, Sunday 04 February 2007. Those paintings were beautiful and influential. I first saw reproductions of them in Time magazine when it was news that Olitski was making stained paintings with the edges, (the Edges!), being the focal point. That was his breakthrough and later on his all-over sprays of colour. Today artists are still remaking and recreating his breakthroughs, although not with his originality.
04/02/2007 Finally accepting that I had to wage war on these recalcitrant linen canvases, the day was spent sandpapering them down then re-applying another coat of primer, which in twenty-four hours I’ll sandpaper down again. Even though it was pouring with rain, in the evening I did a circuit of gallery Openings. In Berlin they want people to come to the openings, they aren’t invitation only, celebrity A-list, and guards on the doors, affairs. There are gallery guides printed for each month, the Berliner Kunstkalender that lists all the galleries with their exhibitions dates and times and as well the dates and times of the Opening Receptions and times. Isn’t that such a friendly, democratically great way to run an art scene? People actually are so nice here. So around I went, looking like a drowned rat, hair plastered down, coat dripping and managed to meet friends and see four galleries before squelching back home to my cosy Milchhof studio.
03/02/2007 This evening I met and had dinner with a landscape architect and a jazz singer. Not at all an uptight stiff German as I imagined he might be, when he drove up in his Audi, meanwhile saying how Mercedes Benz are terrible cars that should be banned, he is all gaily laughing, youthful fluidity, the opposite of my suppositions. She is a blonde with darker roots, a languid smoothness, lovely in a slower sense, with a liquid layer of sadness underneath which must feed into her singing. He has a new project, the grounds of a new school, she sings in jazz clubs, letting a room in her flat for short stays, and teaching English as a language to make ends meet. We went to the Volkspark am Weinberg near the Milchhof, but the other side of it to where I usually walk. Up a path a pink concrete shed with coloured lights seemed to be our destination. Going round the side, a large, modern Swiss restaurant on the peak of the hill appeared, all glass looking out over what now was revealed to be a picturesque wooded hill sloping down to a small lake. Amusingly, there are rows of reclining deck chairs set out and a chalet holding piles of folded thick blankets. People come when the winter sun is bright and lie out wrapped in blankets sunning themselves just as if they were in the sanatorium of The Magic Mountain. Truly surprising.
What was East Berlin, which deceptively appears at first as bleak, decrepit, even brutally forbidding, especially during the dark winter, has in fact myriads of hidden delights. Walking the streets one finds capacious courtyards leading to other interlocking courtyards with a formal magnificence, not at all visible from plain, rather dull streets. Then there are these delightful little parks scattered everywhere. Unlike the English squares, these are Volksparks, that is to say for the people, all folk. No fences, no locking out, they are open. Day and night people walk through and especially in the spring, enjoy Nature there. Slowly my impressions expand of this delightful, liveable city.
After dinner in a lively small Italian restaurant, with much spirited conversation, we go to a jamming session at a jazz club where the ambience and music is wonderfully enjoyable, but my how these people smoke. Everything, my hair, clothes, eyes, lungs are permeated with cigarette smoke. everything that can be has to be washed out before I can get into bed. In the morning I wake with a sore throat and the feeling of a nicotine hangover. And she bravely sings in that night after night.
02/02/2007 Having ‘done’ not much more than a block of galleries yesterday, today I did part of Auguststrasse and bits of Linienstrasse and Gartenstrasse. Exhausting but absorbing. Inevitably the galleries are completely empty except for their own staff, but friendly and lots of varied art to peruse. The Neo Rauch, Liepzig school style of painting is the trend, although the gallerists seem to rather disparage that, maybe because they personally haven’t got their hands on any of the original bunch. They talk the same old story: that there is a lack of collectors; galleries only make money at international art fairs where the buyers are American or Japanese, not in their galleries. Probably the number worldwide of collectors spending vast sums is actually quite small, and all the dealers chase them with also a relatively small handful of ‘big name’ artists. The kudos and hullabaloo about Berlin as the new Art centre is apparently about enthusiasm, numbers and focus of participants, rather than as art market, so far at this moment. But a beguiling place to be an artist in spite of or because of, that. The buzz is that top New York Galleries will open offshoots here soon.
01/02/2007 Dark and empty the narrow streets of Berlin Mitte gallery area may be, but they are stuffed, even cluttered with art galleries, one next to the other. To visit them all would take more time than any sane person could contemplate. However I am with stout heart, boots on, going to give it a try. Meanwhile Manfred came to see how I was getting on. Looking at the canvases he declared that they must have sold me ‘Russian’ linen because it is so loose and rough. ‘Russian’ being a disparaging adjective here now that East Berlin has rejoined the West. I am inclined to agree but am working with it. The roughness of the canvas as equivalent to the smashed then concrete patched together feel of the area, in spite of the buzz of youth hip-ness and cafes.
31/01/2007 Yesterday the final priming coat was applied to the canvases, and today a lot of preliminary measuring, taping and colour decisions took up the whole day. I am going to have to return to Boesner and buy some other colours as I’ve changed my mind a bit, certainly I will have to get the (double the price) Cadmium yellow as it is the best one. At least I’ll get out and get some fresh air and daylight as I have been working through the days lately.
30/01/2007 Another private view this time in a commercial gallery near Check Point Charlie. A vast space with harsh fluorescent tube lighting, the paintings hung sparsely with a lot of bare walls. This had a feeling of a New York opening rather than a London one. Edgy. The amount of space gives it great impact. Glasses of white wine, or water were passed around on trays. There were Russians, and some Americans, as well as Germans. Not such a huge dressy crowd as at the Hamburger Hof but interesting. I liked the alternative relaxed feel.
29/01/2007 A crowded private view reception at the Hamburger Hof Museum of 21st Century Art, seemed very much like an opening in London, interesting looking people, champagne, and an Athens-Berlin-New York video on show. No glasses to be taken into the darkened viewing space so there were about the same number not watching as watching the video, and going back and forth. Since the literature given was in German I perhaps had a little less grasp of the plot than usual, but it was based on the Jacques-Louis David painting ‘Rape of the Sabine Women’ and takes place in the Pergamon Museum, the Tempelhof Airport and the Athens Meat Market, both in B&W 1940’s Berlin, and contemporary Athens in colour, without words but local market sounds and a swirling specially composed score. Eve Sussman, The Rufus Corporation, The Rape Of The Sabine Women.
28/01/2007 In a windy pelting snowstorm I delivered the three works on paper to the Blütenweisse gallery. ‘The art must get through’, I thought. It is such an attractive spacious gallery. The rents are very low, comparatively, in Berlin so the galleries are huge.
27/01/2007 My writer friends and I met for a farewell celebration lunch at Gorky Park the Russian restaurant, the celebration being our meeting and being in Berlin, the farewell because they are returning to New York. Borsht, blinis, caviar and German champagne, (Sekt), fabulous. I love being with these smart guys who don’t let anything get them down. It is tender and touching to see them approach. One walking slightly ahead of the other saying things like ”watch out for the broken pavement here, keep to the left,” “here is the curb to step down quite a way,” “now there are four high steps up to the restaurant with a rail on your right.” The other, blind one, has his hand lightly on the other’s shoulder and follows with trust. They look as if they could be in a Beckett play, archetypal figures crossing the stage in eternity. Very moving. Then they realise I’m there and shout and wave their arms.
26/01/2007 Through a London friend’s introduction I had dinner with two German filmmakers. Although both do their own documentary art works, one is also an established film editor and is at present working on a film for Wim Wenders, shot in the Congo, and the other works on the production of Hollywood films like ‘Gladiator’, so they go back and forth doing this to pay the way for their own work. They rent a marvellous glass and wood attic conversion on top of a solidly heavy De Stijl building. Eighty percent or more of Berliners rent, it is the norm unless they are part of a cooperative that buys a shared building. Six flights up with no lift gave me time to admire the elaborately carved doors on each landing and must keep them very fit. It was breathtaking once I reached the spacious flat both in the sense of the view and my lungs’ intake. But terrific. They are in their thirties and intensely intelligent. She is small featured, with dark shorthair, slender like a fine spring, winding and unwinding concepts as they come into the conversation. He is fairer, calmer, speaks with a quiet assurance. Both sophisticated food and a wide assortment of drinks flowed, as we discussed semantics, classic films, subject matter and form in art, backgrounds, children-parent neuroses, and other subjects. I felt as if I were breathing pure oxygen on Thomas Mann’s mountain.
25/01/2007 Every step of the way in making a painting one has to be on one’s toes wary of the pitfalls and obstacles on the way. Mentioning toes, painting, if it succeeds, is like ballet just as everyone quotes: presented as an effortless finished object, never mind the bloodied toes, sprained ankle, months of work. It is not at all a factory assemblage produced impersonally. As an example, when Manfred arrived and we put together the stretchers, doubling them with an electric stapler, and then laid the pieces of linen canvas down, one was too short, too narrow, it simply did not fit. After a bit of discussion and my swearing, there was nothing for it but to return to the kunst magazin and get another piece the right size. Since it is expensive they won’t be happy about that, and if needs must I will just have to pay for another, but I did give the correct measurements. That helpful girl was extremely upset but immediately went about replacing the linen and said how sorry she was. I only hope she doesn’t have to make it up from her wages. Personally I was much relieved for the paintings. They were stretched up by the end of the morning and then I began wetting them, but I had a sinking feeling that they hadn’t been stretched tightly enough. Manfred is used to cotton canvas that does shrink when wet. Linen may tighten when wet but doesn’t shrink in the same way, and this linen was looser than what I have worked with before. Knocking out the corners worked but warped the stretchers, so then they had to be knocked back again, back and forth until they were finally optimised. After another wetting the corners rose up and weights had to be applied to keep them down. Those piles of books came into their own here. Whew, cross fingers I think they are fine. Once they dry out I’ll put the primer on.
24/01/2007 Now a month has passed since I arrived in Berlin and I feel at home. It is actually brilliant fun to be immersed in another culture; a pleasure to learn the history, to read Thomas Mann, Nietzsche, Rilke, think about thinks differently. All those small details that stuck out so much at the beginning have been assimilated: where things are, how a shopping bag is tucked into the coat pocket as doors are pulled open, looking left in the street, carrying money to pay for anything I might buy, has all become second nature. Because it feels so much safer here than in London, as well as much less crowded, slower in pace, and of course nowhere around here takes credit cards anyway; I carry amounts of money on me that I never would otherwise. This feeling of being settled in releases a lot of energy that was used up before, and that shows in how I work now, no more dithering. The main thing is that now most of the Milchhof artists are back from their month away and what a difference that makes to the vitality of ambience. Sculptors in the halls, painters and photographers in their studios, coming and going, saying ‘Hallo’, being friendly, I feel happy here. Of the people I’ve met so far, the names I remember are Regina, Isabetta, Georgina, Wolka, Marcus, Mark, Tom, and of course Manfred, but there are all the others who smile and make me feel welcome as I pass. “ You are our guest. Welcome. We hope you enjoy Berlin.” That makes for an exceptionally fine feeling.
Since I didn’t want to stop working in the studio during the day, again this evening I went up at ten pm to do some emails perched in the corridor, and again shortly afterwards the large bass violin carrying girl turned up and again flung open her door and all the corridor windows. Is she a fresh air addict, does she play in a smoky night club and needs to clear her lungs, is it the smell of turpentine or some other medium that she is clearing out, or is it that she sublets from Isabetta so that she can practise her music letting it rip out into the sky? This strong girl in her drab overcoat is intriguing.
23/01/2007 From before ten am today I started drawing various directions and tryouts for the new canvases. From time to time a thought would impinge that I should stop for lunch soon, but when I finally did stop it turned out to be after ten pm, so that was time to stop and make dinner. A satisfying feeling but I’ll know better when I look at what I’ve done later.
22/01/2007 At the Künstler Magazin, (Artists’ Shop), I had the cash ready to pay and the girl with her heavy biker’s boots, layers of black clothing and an underskirt of rust satin to compliment her flaming Venetian red long hair, silver bracelets and dangling earrings flashing, jumped up on the counter to pull down all the stretchers and linen canvas roll. She made bundles of them for me to carry to the Milchhof. They don’t have delivery and the distance is too short for a taxi, but my word the weight was tremendous. Yes it is only three blocks but the strong gusts of wind didn’t help, especially since with the first load I somehow managed to twist my wrist. Four journeys like that, staggering back and forth made me feel quite hot and shaky by the time I got it all safely up the stairs into the studio. ‘Now is the time to relax’, I thought after that and went off on the tram and U-Bahn to Postdamer Platz to the Sony Cinestar where I watched an entertaining unserious film. It was all too good to be true and had a cheesy voice-off commentary, but along with a hot chocolate it hit the button for post-heavy load bearing wrist damage. Next month the Berlin Film Festival is held here. All lit up at night, gigantic anonymity, it is so Hollywood fake, that it is perfect for the stars glamour.
21/01/2007 Well Miss Uppity, I was revelling in how I’ve assimilated my environment and thinking how nervous I had been on the U-Bahn at first, sitting on the edge of the seat, (and by the way one can mostly always get a seat), not taking my eyes away for a second searching for the signs that would be my stop, and now how different how relaxed; a seasoned Berlin traveller reading the weekly Guardian, when you guessed it, I went right past Alexanderplatz. But at least I didn’t feel lost forever, as I might have done then. Worse though was my always making myself look left first when I cross the road, which I thought I had mastered well, but today I stepped out, after looking left, but preoccupied, I must have just glanced left without really taking it in, because I was looking at the empty road to the right when I stepped out. At that instant a bicycle whizzed past about two centimetres from my face, and aghast I also saw a car that had stopped just behind. That was shocking. ‘But there never is any traffic on this road’ came into my mind. That’s the problem, glancing but not seeing, my mind not paying attention.
After a month as a recluse I have built up a routine, a satisfying rhythm of drawing, writing, reading, going to see things on my own. All along probably whingeing about never seeing a soul. Well now with these new contacts, along with the new canvases that will be stretched with Manfred, I have social appointments every day for the next seven days. My anxiety now, since I seem to need to worry, is about having enough time on my own and fitting everything in. Un embarrasses des riches. Is it ‘too much of a good thing’? Or rather ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ ? Yes.
20/01/2007 The noise in the night was the hurricane force wind blowing everything about. A German artist said to me with relish, “It is raining cats and dogs,” pleased to use his idiomatic English that sounded charming. Upstairs I was perched precariously outside the door of the studio where I now have a much more satisfactory arrangement to log in to their Internet connection instead of trekking to the Internet shop. They have a large three-room suite of studios with desk room for me, which is great, but they usually leave at six and this was ten pm. Shortly after that, a solidly built fair girl in a grey overcoat, carrying a huge Bass violin turned up at an adjoining studio. Flinging open its’ door, after barely saying “Hallo”, she then proceeded to fling wide open the corridor windows as well. With hurricane wind outside this made quite an impression and a huge draught so I didn’t dawdle. Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ was a fine way to ride out the storm. From the first pages one can realise that it is a masterpiece. Written densely, I don’t even think of skipping bits, but instead stop and unpick, then think about the phrases. It is exquisitely written, reminding me of Proust. Horrendous details of tubercular sputum, blood, drawn out deaths that are surprising but not actually as revolting as they might be in another novelist’s hand. Shocking as they are, these episodes are interwoven by the complexity in every detail. Exact numbers of windows, doors, tables are given, the gait and stance of each person with a full description of their clothes, as well as their coughs, are meticulously put in so carefully and thoroughly that a picture is physically built.
19/01/2007 Today I used up the Felix Gonzalez-Torres paper handouts doing quick scribbling sketches of ideas; this to the end of having three drawings on paper that I won’t mind exhibiting at the blütenweisse gallery, in ten days time. So far I have one I like, one that could be good, and several maybes. Manfred and I are in discussion over the stretchers, I’ve asked him to write a note in German specifying exactly what I need, especially that they should be made deep enough so that the linen canvas when being painted doesn’t show stretcher bar marks. His suggestion is to get two sets of stretchers, one without the cross bars and glue them together. That's what I'd call an ad hoc solution but am willing to give it a go.
Since the biking around Berlin was such a pleasure yesterday, that I’ve asked if the Milchhof bicycle could be fixed up for me. The other admirable thing I noticed about cycling in Berlin is that not only is it safer for the cyclist but also the ferocious concerted stealing of bikes that occurs in London, Amsterdam, Montreal, you name it, doesn’t apparently happen here. This in a city with twenty percent unemployment is almost unbelievable. I have seen no D-locks, only those plastic coated wire cables that last about four seconds before they are hacked through, elsewhere. These thin cables also are not necessarily fastened around steel poles or gates but often just immobilising the wheels and left propped up. Mind boggling to a cyclist more or less resigned to having to replace stolen bikes from time to time.
18/01/2007 Now the second month starts and how better to begin than with a bicycle tour of Berlin. Outdoors, a different perspective and glorious. Berlin is very bicycling friendly, truly green in this. The footpaths have cycle lanes on them so that bicycles do not have to compete with cars and it works so well because the footpaths are made wide enough to allow room. When there are cycle lanes in the roads they are amply large enough for bicycles so it’s not the constant dangerous war with cars that I encounter in London. Everyone gives way to everyone and no one gives dirty looks or shouts insults being passed on the pavement by a bike; they know it is safe and works. Like a dream come true, (for a cyclist). Also Berlin is flat so there is plenty of time to look around without having to huff up a hill. It was exhilarating to cycle around looking at things with my new artist friend tour guide.