16/03/2007 “The most secret movements of the inner world are inaccessible to words.” -Hegel. Berlin with all the interleaving of sinister violence, layered decadence, its brilliance of intellectual thought, outpourings of creativity, music swirling over all, has also its physical elements as great implacable givens. When I first arrived, the heavy gloom was palpable. It was dark, it rained, I couldn’t see. It then snowed, it was dark, I couldn’t see. Since then it rained, it was dark, I couldn’t see. It rained and rained, snowed and snowed, was dark, and I couldn’t see. Being built on a swamp, the water table is high, and with so much reconstruction digging down for the vast new structures, water has to be constantly pumped out of these sites into the river Spree. The sewers smell of dank foulness as one passes their vents. All of this is imbedded into Berlin, as much as the grisly past, points of candle lights, magnificent accomplishments. There is movement in all this, change and the excitement of new possibilities, perhaps uniquely so. These shifting blocks, at this time, and here.
Now, overnight before my eyes sunlight has entered Berlin, transforming it entirely. Throwing off the long dark winter, everyone is out on the streets and parks breathing in sunlight through their pores. One can feel the instinctive awakening; at last it has come. One turns one’s face to the light. Up on the hill of Mauer (Wall) Park, it is as crowded and festive as any beach in the summer. After all the darkness this brilliant explosion of sunlight has magnetically drawn everyone outside as if sucked by a radiant vacuum. The Milchhof studio building is empty of artists. It may be a false spring, so enjoy it now. On the hill built out of the debris and bones of war, the large swings swoop out over the city, both children and adults pump their legs swinging out, letting their cares, the past go. Here comes the Future. We are alive.
15/03/2007 Most welcome arrival of the Architect again. It was to be the final visit and departure but now there is this period of another month’s grace. Hurrah. We visit the Landscape Architect in his spacious apartment, a newly converted attic of a turn of the century, solidly bourgeois, building into a contemporary loft up some six flights of stairs. No wonder he is so slenderly athletic. It is elegant, filled with paintings, some his own, artworks, both a grand piano and an upright, and of course many large impressive plants. My favourite being the Madagascar Palm with its’ tall spiky trunk and two leaves in hibernation. After fragrant white tea that is, I think, from Lychee leaves, we had an elegant dinner at the Austrian, but with a French touch, Borchardt’s restaurant. With my calf’s liver the mashed potatoes were a vivid viridian green, because pureed Ruccola had been added. That was a delicious first. Afterwards we walked and looked at new trophy architecture built since 1989, including Jean Nouvel’s Galerie Lafayette, and were showen more of Berlin’s hidden places and passages.
14/03/2007 These colours won’t come right. It doesn’t help of course that the studio lights are so dim that I have to blast the two halogen lights onto the painting just to see at night. Now I am resorting to glazing. Who would have thought I would have to take recourse to this Old Masterish oil painting technique, but I’m desperate.
13/03/2007 “I can’t tell you on the phone, I’ll come over.” That sounds like a leftover from our parents’ generation, either from the war when telephones might be tapped, or from country towns when the local switchboard might have been eavesdropping. Nope my twenty-four year old Welsh artist friend has been having German girlfriend challenges. Well Prince Charles had his mobile phone intimacies broadcast to the world, so who knows now. Over tea he tells me what’s up. It involves two lovely girls both fancying him but now he is starting to fancy only one and he doesn’t want to hurt the other. This takes a lot of discussion of course, but then he postpones the burden of how much truth or what sort should be told and we go off to the vast Templehof airport to have lunch in the workers canteen. This gigantic Fascist building is the largest building in Europe. It is eerily empty although complete with employees; there are almost no passengers as it costs much more to fly into this airport than the commercial Tegel airport. And I mean no passengers. A clutch of pilots and airhostesses sitting at the Air Lift coffee bar, all the counters manned, or womanned, and three single passengers scattered about. Unbelievable. In the employee cafeteria, called Casino, again there were five people serving and apart from us two there was one lone couple eating in the large claustrophobically Fifties dark wood panelled dining rooms. Weird. Very cheap the food, unfortunately it was not above institutional standards, although an impressive range of dishes set out, gradually drying out and congealing. All the time I felt as if I was underwater or in some old film.
12/03/2007 The paintings are so heavy to move, and I am having such difficulty getting the exact colours, painting and then repainting, adjusting, all the while bent double over them, that there is difficulty straightening up after long sessions of this. Ow. Ouch. My back! Being in the studio all the time must be unhealthy. I feel weak. What I’m going to do is work on the smaller canvases, 60 x 50 cm., for a bit as a break from the big ones. Even better, ‘I’m going to stop working, cook some dinner and flop into bed’, I thought when just then there was a thumping on my door. Hugo the artist, whose studio is one floor up, can’t unlock the front door. He’s just checked and would like to work on for a couple more hours, will I still be working then, he asks. Fortunately I hadn’t undressed was my first thought. Being the only artist who actually lives in the building, such practicalities can sometimes be startling. ‘Oh I’m tired tonight’, I say, ‘but at midnight I’ll check the front door and go up to your studio to let you know’. Waiting for midnight means I start painting again. At half past eleven another thumping on the door, Hugo has decided to go home and the front door is Ok. Of course by now my energy has resurged and I paint on for another hour. Funny how these things come and go like moods. One can be distracted and the heavy fatigue might be dismay or anxiety about the painting not working.
11/03/2007 First I went to the Copy Shop and got printouts of all the possibilities to check out my decisions, and then to Boesner’s. It meant difficult decisions about which colours to get. The “hand painted” colour charts are a long way off from the reality of putting the colour on canvas. I bought great colours, I hope, from looking at the paint itself: unscrewing the tops and even putting tiny bits on a piece of paper. The result on my fingertips made me choose for one, Cadmium Green Deep whereas I had rejected it from the printed chart. It has made such a difference to me not having the paints that I’m used to working with. The experience of having to search and make the colours happen has been very intense. Finally, I spent another small fortune of two hundred and forty euros. Now I really am going to try not to buy any more paint and just use what I’ve got.
10/03/2007 A long day making definite hard decisions about the colours for the next stage which meant a lot of trial samples mixing colours, as well as working on the computer looking at varying combinations. I’ve made a shopping list for Boesner’s the big Art Shop.
09/03/2007 Today I recovered myself back into the work. All these visitors and descriptions of outings, I can almost hear murmurings of ‘and the work? What about the paintings?’ buzzing in my ears. But my news is that the residency has been extended for a month. And that’s why I haven’t gone mental and was able to spend some time going round Berlin with my friend. That is so great coming just as I felt despair at getting the paintings finished in time. Is this instead of the perfect bowl from the Great Calculator of Checks and Balances in the Sky? OK thank You.
08/03/2007 What does one do on a Sunday? Why go to the Flea market of course. There on the very first stall was a cherry stoner. One euro and one pleased friend. What luck. Maybe it was because she’d gone to church first. For my part, I went to visit the perfect white bowl with which I have been having a distant love affair, and my breath caught; it wasn’t there. Oh no. I registered the fact of its’ absence, but my eyes continued to search. Feeling a pang, but knowing it wasn’t meant to be, the phrase, ‘we were only ships passing in the night,’ entered my head. Nothing will stop me coming back of course, in case it reappears. Will I continue to search the world’s flea markets for a perfect white porcelain bowl priced less than thirty euros, preferably at twenty euros? Yes I still think it was too much. Twenty-five euros may have weakened me. The possessive stallholder kept us apart. He was obviously right that it would happen. Someone did pay thirty euros. But we have our history, that bowl and I. Ships that cross in the night.
From there we went to the Chapel of Reconciliation, the Mauer Wall Documentation , and the Hamburger Hof Contemporary Art Museum where we saw the William Kentridge video installation. Somewhere just before this my blood sugar level must have dropped as I felt that I couldn’t move another step. Fortunately the Felix Gonzales-Torres piece of the huge pile of shiny wrapped caramels was still on display, and crunching away on several made me feel better. Even more recuperative was the unmissable Kakao Cafe for the most sophisticated hot chocolate in the world. This, along with an attractively modest Indian meal on the way back to the studio, brought my friend’s visit to a close and from the Haut Bahnhof on the overnight train to London, back she went
07/03/2007 After bacon, eggs, a plum and coffee we went to the Gallery Goff+Rosenthal, on Brunnenstrasse to see an exhibition of American artists, ‘From Our Living Room to Yours’, full of funky art objects. Sitting round a table talking to the extremely pleasant and friendly gallery director with one of the art pieces in the centre was somewhat disconcerting as it looked exactly like a big layer cake with icing that one would like to scoop out and lick a finger full, but it is made all the way through of solid oil paint. From there we did a bit of shopping. My friend, a textile designer and screen printer is also a magnificent cook and wanted to buy a German cherry stoner. This quest we pursued from one store to another without success. The reason given being that ‘cherries are not in season now.’ But stainless steel does not have to be fresh we moaned fruitlessly. (Sorry). So a plum pitter was purchased instead. Plums are in season, as we knew from eating them. (But probably in Bolivia or somewhere, Peruvian plums anybody?). There was just time to fit in a museum as we had booked a dinner reservation for the restaurant on the top of the Reichstag, to circumvent the invariable long waiting queue to get in. Unfortunately, getting on the (wrong) train, meant we spent the time going back to where we had started, but taking photographs of the seat cover patterns. East Berlin is completely covered, smothered, in graffiti. Public transport circumvents any more, or is just responding to prevailing tastes, by using graffiti inspired motifs on the seat covers. Even chunks of graffiti are framed to decorate an S-Bahn station.
The Reichstag. What a tremendous experience. The restaurant reservation certainly made it a privileged breeze to get in and through the security checks. What a view at the top and the buzz of Norman Fosters glass dome. The restaurant, elegant, is not cheap, yet considering the wonder of it all, not as expensive as it might possibly be. But I should tell you that my friend said that the meal was on her and it did cost a bomb, one hundred euros for us both. Fabulous, memorable, a complete treat. Seeing Berlin lit up and laid out before us in the night as we walked outside on the roof, then climbed the winding ramp to the top, looking down at the violet seats of the parliament, everyone excited and thrilled to be there, the Reichstag open to visitors until midnight is a glorious glamorous experience. Who would have thought it? Something I didn’t know is that my friend suffers from vertigo, but she was very brave.
Since we were interacting with the evening, I took her to see the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz for all that Hollywood razamatazz, and then we walked to the Modern Art Museum so that she could at least see the Mies van der Rohe building. Approaching, the building seemed to be shooting orange sparks. The whole ceiling was covered with moving orange rays of words pulsating towards us in parallel strips. It was a Jenny Holzer electronic text piece. The word ‘scorn’ was constantly repeated along with phrases such as, “while you spend I save,” scorn, “while you play I work,” scorn. This went on for some minutes while one tried to follow the running words, to see what the pattern might be from one row to the next but it was relentlessly fast like a blitz, then Bang the words receded, then went dark, until Bang they started again, but this time in German. Midnight and no one else there and this wonderful art piece giving its all.
06/03/2007 Straight away we were ready to go on the Fat Tire Berlin Bike tour. Already it was raining but we were not deterred. First we had breakfast at the top of the Galleria department store with its great view looking out at Alexanderplatz, then we joined the three other cyclists with Tom the guide, and off we went. Just to trap us the skies cleared as we set off and so I didn’t put on waterproof trousers or top. Big mistake. Once we were far enough away from the Fernsehturm, the huge television tower where Fat Tire’s office is, to be too far to go back, it started pouring. Undaunted we pressed on and occasionally the rain even stopped for a few minutes. The rain did not put a damper on the joy of cycling around Berlin even if one might wince at the word, but a lunch break for Bratwurst and hot drinks came just in time to thaw out my hands and feet. With us on the tour was an artist from North Carolina and her doctor husband. As they turned up to go bicycling, they introduced themselves as “Joseph and Mary, we’ve left the kid at home”. After the tour they invited us for afternoon tea at their hotel so that they could introduce me to a Berlin artist whose sister, lives in South Carolina. They were such very warm and friendly people. She is small, sweet, curly fair hair, blue eyes and an open nature. Her paintings use her experiences such as when she worked in the Philippines with the street prostitutes. Their friend turned out to be French but has lived as an artist in Berlin for more than twenty years. It was such a pleasure, by unlikely chance, to meet up with these artists and lanky humorous Joseph. We did have a short rest and a bite to eat before going out in the evening, my friend’s first day in Berlin, a full one.. In fact we cut it so fine we took a taxi so that we wouldn’t be late. That is extravagant but the performance written and acted by Lindsay Annis was certainly worth it. It was spectacular. My Ulysses based on an adapted James Joyce’s Ulysses, was sharp and funny. The sound effects exactly austerely creatively imaginative. As was the sparse choreography. It was as I remembered off Broadway used to be before it got into being boring clichéd Fringe. Now here in Berlin I felt the same intense excitement. And you know what? She’s got a studio at the Milchhof. That is so great. The elation of the performance buoyed us up and we went to Gorky Park at one thirty in the morning for bowls of Borsht. No problem. Welcome to friendly to artists Berlin.
05/03/2007 A friend from London arrives today. She’s coming by overnight train and will arrive at 8:30 am. My plan is to take her on a bicycle tour of Berlin too, but this time with a regular city tour that Tom guides so that she gets orientated. What is the weather going to do? After I had sent her the directions how to get from the Hauptbahnhof station by the S-bahn to Alexanderplatz she texted me that her guide book said that she would be arriving at Ostbahnhof, which threw me, and I had to stop and laboriously text her, (I’m crap at texting), that she definitely was not etc. until finally the penny dropped -she had a very old guide book. My goodness why didn’t she look at her ticket? Guide Book perils are something to add to the list of travelling warnings. Soon I’m either going to be fit or dead. Especially since I felt I had to do some housekeeping today, (steps back in amazement), and cleaned the floor in the ante room which will be the guest bedroom for her. Even Tom from the office was amazed when he passed by. Now it looks quite cosy but how comfortable that inflatable bed really is, I’m not sure.
04/03/2007 As soon as we got our bikes from the Fat Tire Bike Company it began to rain. After some dithering and then putting on both rain trousers and those clear plastic tops that all Americans seem to carry, off Sarah and I sped off in a light drizzle, Tom leading the way. Our first destination was to go further into the Eastern Zone to Friedrichshain where a mile of the Wall still remains, known as the East Gallery. After that we cycled up Karl Marx Allee. Sarah is a speeder while I hang back a little and look around, even sometimes taking photographs So she set the pace with Tom asking him questions and I kept up but a bit slower. We got back to Alexanderplatz just as the light was failing, much exhilarated.
03/03/2007 Funnily enough I woke with a sore throat. It may be all the people smoking in the restaurant. Berliners sure do smoke a lot. The last gasp before it becomes illegal. Manfred came to change my light bulb with his tall ladder and a cool white bulb. I had mentioned that the one he had put in before was a yellow tungsten one and as a colourist it was driving me mental. I was still in my navy terrycloth dressing gown and slippers, wet hair wrapped in a red towel, so I felt a bit like either a slut or a housewife. Never mind my unprofessional appearance, the light is a great improvement.
Once actually up and about I felt I needed some fresh air and decided to walk about outside on the streets near here, taking photographs. Starting out in brilliant sunshine, soon it turned into driving rain, then sleet, snow and all of a sudden back to sunshine again. Talk about changeable, but I got some good shots even if some were in the pouring rain, like the one of a girl walking by the gigantic Di Suvero sculpture carrying a plaster nude figure. At one point I found another tiny Heimat shop and bought some cute postcards, one with silly little photos saying in German the admonition: ‘Avoid mentioning domestic difficulties-we all have them. Suitable topics are children, dogs, and travel -Many thanks!’ now whom am I going to send that to?
Meeting up with Sarah Kent in the evening again, we went to Tom’s studio so that she could see his work and then went out to dinner at the November restaurant near Kathe Köllwitz Platz, and afterwards walked up to Kakao the fabulous hot chocolate place and bar. One dark bitter 100% hot chocolate like that has probably got the serotonin content of three orgasms. We’re going cycling tomorrow.
02/03/2007 Finally I think I’m making some progress on the paintings, but everything takes so much time that it is hard to fit everything in. Sarah Kent the art critic is in Berlin writing about UK artists who have moved here to work. Mona Hatoum is one and Susan Hiller, Tacita Dean are others. Sarah came to my studio here to look at what I’m doing and then we went to dinner. What a pleasure to be able to talk freely and be understood. Apart from a few, like the quicksilver landscape architect and the jazz singer who has lived in London for a time, the isolation here is the language. It is as if one lives behind a sheet of glass prevented from being really present. Not that they aren’t nice – Berliners are so very friendly and well mannered that I am astonished how very obliging and caring everyone is. Everyone smiles and says ‘Hallo’ and ‘Chuss’ as we pass in the halls. Any time I need to find out or get something done they are so helpful, but it is the chats and free conversations, to really get to know them, that can’t happen without my speaking German, that I miss. Sarah and I went to a wonderful laid-back place on Oderberger Strasse, which we both said reminded us of London in the late seventies. A lot of Berlin is like that as if brimming with nostalgia. All bare wood and hand decorated loos, no hassle, sweet people and what is more, delicious food. A girl at the next table was doing her studies, writing in a book.
01/03/2007 For dinner I met up with Tom and another artist who also works as a bicycle tour guide. Jonathan is German but has just come back from two years in Argentina. His grandparents settled there and his parents had gone back to live in Argentina when the Second World War broke out. He was quick to say that his family were against the war and didn’t want to have any part in it, although we hadn’t asked, but this war business still raises its head even if unspoken. An extremely volatile, cheerful fellow, he certainly had the sun darkened skin and look of a gaucho, keeping us entertained by his anecdotes of his life in Argentina. We were eating at the so popular Monsieur Vuong’s where the queues are so long and the place is so packed for the two Vietnamese specialities that they offer each day, that getting part of a table seems like a victory. The mango and coconut smoothie was divine.
Afterwards we went to the Art Pub, which has been opened by the English artist Paul Woods. Everyone that works there is an artist, a Siberian one behind the bar, and the walls are changing exhibitions of his own and others works. Musical groups play there on some nights, poetry readings, or artist discussions other nights. He first came to Berlin in 2000 when everything was wide open and he squatted like they all did in the empty abandoned buildings. He was part of a squat of artists that included some from the Milchhof. Tall, thin and with one of those scraggy beards, he talked a mile a minute about all his projects and possibilities, even outtalking Jonathan. He had first started opening galleries in empty shops, building up a group of artists around him, but then he got a backer and opened this Art Pub in November and did a bustling business. However, unlike running a gallery where he freely operated it, as he liked, Paul said that being a pub brought all sorts of nasty elements circling round. Criminals demanding protection money, drug dealers wanting to be included, Neo-Nazis turning up, all the underworld elements made him a target. After many all-out fights and punchings he called the police. Now all of a sudden no one comes. It’s true we were the only ones there that night. His telephone and Internet has been cut off and the pub no longer pays its way. Irrepressible though, in spite of these woes he went on to talk of the artist projects he wants to set up and the performances he is going to give along with artist workshops on how to make money. Did you hear that last bit? A real alternative systems breaker. Hats off to his indomitable spirit even if smashing keyboards, as part of musical performance isn’t as cutting edge as it once was.
28/02/2007 For two days now I haven’t been able to get an Internet signal outside the journalists’ office to send any emails, which is frustrating. Finally I copied all my stuff onto a CD and was preparing to do the trek to the Internet shop at Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. It was a drag as it was well after nine in the evening. I don’t like the one nearer here as he charges double and I always lose my work because he charges before use and then inevitably the computer shuts down before I am ready to click Send. I went upstairs just to check once more, and this time there was the elegant girl who works for Le Monde in Paris, beautiful with long ash brown hair and pale face, but she always looks tired as she has to work long and hard for them covering the political stories. So we tapped away until midnight.
27/02/2007 After getting the edges right in the orange painting, I decided to try and look up the galleries that are listed in the surrounding area, but it isn’t as easy as looking up the address and hey presto there it is. Berlin has the most difficult street numbering system of anywhere I’ve been to with the exception of Seoul. In Berlin the numbers start at one and continue consecutively like that all the way down one side until the other end and then they go back up sequentially until that end, so one and say six hundred and thirty face each other. The rub is that you have to know how long the street is and which way to start off. With wide streets it is a real pain because one can’t easily check what the numbers are doing across the way. Berlin, so geared to insider knowledge, interesting as always. One gallery listed on Oderberger Strasse, after walking up and down a bit, turned out to be a person’s name on an apartment block. No answer on the phone or the doorbell. Well, maybe another day. Then walking down, a long way trying to find 176 Schönhauser Allee, I passed all sorts of intriguing shops: a tatooist whose premises were lined with richly coloured silk hangings and gave the impression of an Eastern cult; a plumber’s where a girl had on nothing but a towel and was being photographed in the bath in the window; a shop that was for used clothing and objects but with everything set out so exquisitely that it made me wonder if they were new things designed to look second-hand, but it was closed so I couldn’t check; a building with classical columns that was so massive it looked unbelievable, and turned out to be a school; a massage and sauna establishment down a courtyard; a vivid red brick Roman Catholic African church that was so angular and odd that it made me wonder if parts of it had been bombed away and they just joined the standing parts with the dome; a ‘Natur’ shop that had bolts of cloth with peculiar old fashioned lumpy clothes hanging that had been handmade there with no attention to to-days or yesterdays fashions, wearing them I suppose one would look ‘natur; but no 176. Except that this plastered over with graffiti and fly bills boarded up wall, what is that? Look it has number 176. Going up the stairs that were covered in graffiti, one came into a conclave of abandoned buildings around a little park. There is a tiny workers cafe in the corner that is open for lunches mid week and the rest is closed but is a biergarten in the summer. Where is the gallery? Asking the man who was clearing up rubble he said ‘ya, ya,’ and waved to the back where there was one of those red and white stripey 'keep out' tapes strung over the derelict public toilets, and yes a small sign with a red arrow on it. Past some construction work and a pile of rubble, then voilà, I came out into one of those fabulous renovations of what had been a brewery, and now is the úber chic Akira Ikeda gallery with a massive red steel Mark Di Suvero sculpture outside. Wow. But they don’t make it easy for anybody.
26/02/2007 Going down to the basement to try and find a light bulb, I again was in the fantastic atmosphere of sort of dungeon-like basement filled with vivid light cells where Marcus Wittmers and his assistants are working round the clock on his large ironic, fibre glass polychromatic sculptures. Superman is crouched in a corner looking ashen faced up at the sky, and outside an even larger Superman is crashing to the ground splitting his head open. Marcus is great. Because he works such late hours down there, he has always rescued me when my key or the front door lock jammed. No bulb was to be found but one of the sculptors said she had a halogen spotlight that I could have, so we went up to the ground floor to get it. Wiebke Wachmann’s large studio, every bit, was completely painted with multilayered, dazzling white, and one wall had banks of white fluorescent tubes like gym bars. The effect was of a literal fog of white, palpable whiteness filling the room. It is like a James Turrell but she has installations within this and makes photographic sculptures from it. Behind all those heavy steel doors at the Milchhof there are many surprises.
Lisabetta a painter on the first floor, has got a commission to do one hundred and thirty pictures all to strict specification of the same size,120 x 140 cm. and technique, for an Anthroposophic Hospital that requires the Rudolph Steiner technique. This uses very thin water-based layers of the primary colours red, yellow, blue, on top of each other, making orange, green, and purple paintings. The differences in colour come about by the sequence of the applications. There are to be two paintings of the same colour, in each of the sixty-five rooms, one on either side of the television, facing the bed. To me this sounds like a surrealistic fable, but I can see that it might be quite soothing.
25/02/2007 Putting my head down, I just solidly caught up on the painting waiting to be done and got the colour relationships in place. Gulping down a late lunch of a plate of mozzarella salad, and a chunk of chocolate, I rushed off to revisit the Gemăldegalerie Museum and spent a long absorbing time looking at the Vermeers, the Titian Venus, Velasquez’s Picture of a Woman, Cranach’s Adam and Eve, and Dührer’s Two Sisters that have been recently reunited. An illuminating, satisfying three hours, being filled by wonder.
24/02/2007 For the last month I’ve been reading these early 20th century, late 19th century, big hitting German masters: Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke and now Friedrick Nietzche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra. There is a lot of music in them all. Music is mentioned or described, but also repetitions and symmetries. The writing stylistically expressed as dance. Striking too is the occurrence of supernatural incidents. There are séances and discussions of visions. The supernatural is accepted as present. I think it was much more widespread then than now with computerised virtual reality taking the attention. Even my mother, said that she had been to a séance as a student in the late 30’s in Paris. She said she saw ectoplasm coming out of a woman’s ear. It was waxy and whitish, going out to a large formless shape before retreating back in. This said matter-of-factly, with detached humour, by my mother who was an intelligent scoffing sort of person. Colette the writer probably summed it up when she commented, “It doesn’t matter whether you believe or not.” What is intriguing is whether these phenomena are self-generated, coming from within oneself, or actually present.
Come to think of it, when I used to live in Holman Hunt’s last studio, on Melbury Road, where he finished the painting ‘The Scapegoat’, amongst others, went blind and slowly mad, as did one of his models. That had a black atmosphere about it, which was gradually dispelled by my years of occupancy. In the nights there used to be quite a lot of scuffling and whispering noises that I more or less slept through, but sometimes would go and investigate the hallway when it was particularly loud. Nothing was ever to be seen. I did a painting, abstract of course, in violet, purple grey, about this, titling it ‘Whispers In The Night’, and hung it on the wall alongside others of my works. Every night then, consistently, persistently, this one painting crashed down off the wall. After about a fortnight of this, I got spooked and painted over it with burnt sienna, yellow, cerulean blue, as well as painting out the whispering title on the back. The new title became Illusion of Knowledge. Well that painting never fell off the wall again. Curious and creepy, non? So one’s thoughts mull over things.
23/02/2007 Brian Eno recently had an exhibition of ‘One Million Paintings.’ He wisely leaves them as light images on a screen or printouts. Painting is difficult and can’t be done with the click of a wrist. What painting does is bring into being the subject matter, which is the reality of the materials and the process. “How did you do that?” Is the first thing one painter wants to know about another’s art. Weight, density, texture, variations, viscosity, application, all generate the whole. So it isn’t child’s play really then.
Another light bulb has blown. I should say the other light bulb has now blown. Which doesn’t help the murkiness of lack of sunlight.
Fortunately for me the Landscape Architect and his friend the jazz singer are coming to the studio this evening and we will go out to dinner. That is what I need, exactly: intelligent witty company. At the Thai restaurant near here, my crispy duck with rice noodles was so delicious that I was afraid there might be wheat in it, but nope, not a single side effect, the noodles were rice not wheat, as they said. But it was the conversation that was so enjoyable. When I asked whether Jeff Koons ‘Puppy Dog,’ that sculpture covered with greenery and pot plants, would have been done with a landscape architect or a horticulturist, the name Jeff Koons didn’t ring a bell, but then the penny dropped, to use two idiomatic clichés one after the other, oh yes, he was the artist who proposed that for the Frankfurt City Square his sculpture of two giant dildos suspended from cranes should be used. What I still would like to know is how Koons in that early soccer ball piece, got the ball to be suspended in the glass show-case with no visible support. That is a great iconic work. But how was it done?
From there we sort of naturally slid into relationships and how little things can cause such irritation. Like one partner liking the heat down as low as possible at one, and the other only happy when the heat is turned up to five, which is the highest. So is it war? or one person being contented, the other miserable, or what about a compromise where neither has it where they would be naturally content? Tough call and I’m sure we’ve all had fights like this.
It is captivating to hear of all the intricacies of break-ups, and triangular relationships that happen in families. The drama of every life is incredible when one hears about it. Affairs, lies, secrets, uncontrollable passions, it is not only the British Royal Family who has them. We also talked about the differences between Germany and the UK especially in manners. This was centred on a book by an Ethiopian writer who has written A History Of Manners, comparing the European manners structure in the respective societies. Did you know for example that the custom of greeting people by kissing originated from the Hapsburg Court which was such a small closed circle that one had to be born into; they were all related and so naturally kissed their family members
All that cerebral stimulation and affability zoomed up my energy level so that I worked in the studio until after four am when I got back.
22/02/2007 Taking a break from the studio, I wandered along Danziger Strasse, at the U-Bahn station where it looks rough and run down with graffiti everywhere, glorious freedom after the wall came down, until I came across Dunckerstrasse with little shops of originality. The shop that sold nothing but chocolate probably was my favourite. Called ‘int’t veld schokolade,’ the owner who obviously loved chocolate, very thin he was too, took me around the shelves delicately pointing out the rarest of the rare, explaining and describing the various categories, eruditely like a botanist. I browsed, enthused and bought blocks of trinka chocolate on sticks to stir into hot milk, also white chocolate flavoured with liquorice, and chocolate with salt. Now that we avoid salt in everything else for healthy living, it has become a desired thrilling vice, like absinthe almost.
Not far away was a toyshop filled to overflowing with second-hand children’s sleds, toys and books. Having been his toy shop when it was Eastern Berlin, the slight, dark haired, intense, again thin, proprietor, another huge enthusiast took me around and showed me how it was in those days. In the back was a narrow space, his living/ bed/ kitchen, now his tiny office, and next to this the little shop he had then with the old East Berlin toys set out, not for sale but as a museum of that time. The rest was a bursting labyrinth of library shelves of ‘almost new’ books, toys and dolls all in good, clean condition and an enchanted atmosphere. Like a fairy tale, one could imagine the toys coming to life at night and telling their stories of where they have been. Curiously, with the exception of the handsome wooden sleds, and a few velvety dark red foxes, mostly these Eastern Berlin toys were badly made cheap plastic. But then things don’t have to be beautiful to be imbued with sentimental emotion. In fact too beautiful rather precludes that. Like the scruffy, teddy bears, we all had, the things we were allowed to play with, not the special ones. I still remember how upsetting it was the day my mother decided mine simply could not continue in that filthy state, so she laundered it vigorously and that finished poor teddy off.
A bit further along Chlorinerstrasse there was another extraordinary shop, this one of heimat goods. Heimat is one of those untranslatable German words; it means something like ‘where the heart feels at home’, where one is safe. There were hand-stitched dresses with pockets, table runners with cut out and sewn decorations, aprons and head kerchiefs. Actually two woman were sitting right there sewing up these delightful, homey items. To me this was amazing as it was all within a very few streets off the main ex-squats and communes of Kastanienallee, the hippest part of Berlin.
21/02/2007 In the morning of a quiet day we visited the Kapelle der Versohnung (Reconciliation), and the Mauer Wall Documentation Centre where the tragic past is all still so vividly present. Lunch at a Swabian restaurant, Schwarzwaldstuben, on Tucholskystrasse with a most pleasant ambience and hearty authentic food. No we didn’t have deer, the ironic painting of a little bambi over my head was the closest I came to hunting ‘n shooting but the friendly staff brought large plates of cured and roasted pork, potatoes and salad, that from the neighbouring table, the dark brown greyhound/ Irish Setter Cross fixed with a most steadfast alertness from his “Stay” position below table top height. Well such delights were all too brief and the Architect departed again. Back to the Salt Mines.
20/02/2007 At last a day at the magnificent Pergamon Museum with its priceless treasures brought back wholesale. Enormous structures in their entirety have been transported and reassembled here. The vastness gives an unmistakeable high. Here is the Pergamon Altar, the Ischtar Gates from Babylon, rooms that literally take one’s breath away, as well as the elegant simplicity of single eternal objects imbued with the mystery of their great age.
From this weighty classical antiquity to blatant commercialism with a bump, only stopping for a Berlin sausage on the way, at Deponie. The Daimler Chrysler Contemporary Museum was our goal but difficult to find it certainly was. At Potsdamer Platz there are signs to the Daimler Chrysler Quartier, a gigantic Mall, arcade of shops and offices extending to the sky, but in this bustle no one had heard of its eponymous Contemporary Art Museum. After much searching and enquiring we were directed outside to a doorway. The High-Rise Mall and office skyscraper had been built around the original building, leaving a doorway on the frontage. Ringing a bell the door opens and a lift takes one up to the fourth floor to the Contemporary Museum. Talk about discreet, this seemed like obfuscation to the point of sadism. Well next time you’ll know, and aren’t you supposed to suffer for art? But of course really, they want the kudos and tax breaks of Contemporary Art but know the value of expensive retail square footage at the forefront. On display was Contemporary Indian art from a Paper Manufacturer Corporate Collection in New Delhi. Photographs of a eunuch’s position in society were fascinating; ethnography perhaps, but interesting with the ramifications of being considered as good luck to be present at weddings and celebrations but not truly part of society. A massive figurative polychromatic sculpture of a woman’s head almost as a Deity stood out amongst versions of the sort of work being done elsewhere tweaked to reflect India.
19/02/2007 Rilke came to Berlin on 1 August 1898 and wrote in his diary: “ The first thing I discovered was: Bismarck has died ... The mood is Bismarck is dead-long live-Berlin.” He writes sensitively about art, that the artist should trust in solitude, and that art at its highest cannot be national. Every artist being born with a homeland nowhere but within his own self, therefore those of his works that proclaim the language of this self are his most deeply genuine.
He does as well, write the sort of sentimental tosh about women who are artists being no longer compelled to create once they have become mothers, and artists (implying ‘true artists’), are male that was written in those days and probably still is in backward pockets. That the Artist must find Himself whilst Woman finds fulfilment in the child. Sound familiar?
However to overlook that, hear Rilke on Rodin: “One thing especially seems to me to be of utmost importance to Rodin: that his works do not look out, do not from some point turn toward one personally as if to make conversation, but remain always an artwork …And this is one of the most superb qualities of Rodin’s sculptures-that they always remain within this untransgressable magic circle toward which one may approach, and from whose border one gazes toward the work of art as toward something near that becomes feelable from far away.”
18/02/2007 Not a moment too soon, brilliant sunshine and the arrival of the architect for a weekend visit dispelled a three-day jaded trough. About to succumb to, not SAD, seasonal Autumnal Disorder, but maybe LAL, Lack of Air and Light. I think I’d just come to the end of whatever stocks I had of melatonin, seratonin, Vitamin D or whatever other chemicals the body gets from exposure to daylight. It is no good just working round the clock and never getting outside. A bit of letting up, company and fresh air fills the days as if they were troughs of jade from which we drank with pleasure. Quite a different matter, just by repositioning the words, did you notice? The weight of the winter’s long darkness cocoons one into introspection. Germans don’t seem to like bright lights. They sit in darkened rooms or cafes, with candlelight. If I switch on an overhead light in the office so that I can see the keyboard there are shrieks of dismay. “No, not sympathetic atmosphere.” I have a feeling that I need force to pull the paintings out of the rough, poetic darkness.
17/02/2007 Reading Rilke’s Diaries resonates for me, as a temporary resident in Berlin: “most people … blindly race past a thousand unobtrusive beauties on their way to those official sights that usually only disappoint them anyway.”
But here even more:” Know then that art is the means by which singular, solitary individuals fulfil themselves. What Napoleon was outwardly, every artist is inwardly. One climbs higher with each victory, as if with each new tread of a stair. But did Napoleon ever win a battle to please the public?”
How about that, and:
“One is inevitably unjust to a work of art the moment one attempts to evaluate it in association with others. In the end that leads to questions like: Raphael or Michelangelo, Goethe or Schiller, Suderman or -, and the good Germans have always loved such parlour games.”
Or then the very intriguing:
“Occasionally viewed gallery pictures confuse. Our eyes take in along with them – even when they hang isolated in one room – the impression of this strange space, an arbitrary gesture of the gallery attendant, perhaps even the recollection of a scent, which will all now unfairly insinuate themselves in our memory. This conglomerate, which under certain circumstances might be able to enhance the mood, is in its randomness and cruel lack of style perverse. It is like the visit one pays a great and important man in a hotel. I remember several such visits; with one there is irremediably etched in my mind, alongside the appearance of the personality in question, a bedside chest whose door opened constantly with a little crowing sound, and also some errant slipper; and another I can only think of in the company of a badly ravaged breakfast tray over which a shirt collar had been stretched lengthwise like a bridge.”
Yes, it is true, the time of day, our emotional states, all influence how we see art and so as Rilke says, pictures only occasionally viewed in a gallery may not be seen justly, clearly as themselves. But what can be done? Only a few favoured people like the Queen can own a Vermeer and observe it every day, (if she does). One person, one work of art truly seen, or thousands glimpsing hundreds of works of art for a few seconds, that is the difference a hundred and ten years brings, but well worth being aware of in the hasty judgements.