Mud people (excerpt from Gargoyle)

fullsizeoutput_b93 The shallow hole the boy had dug became deeper with time as he scooped out the red colored clay the ground was made of. He filtered it through his hands, taking out stones, sticks, decomposed leaves and roots. Punching and smoothing it he compacted the clay to one block, thus slowly building up a monolith from clay. He devoted great care to this process, making sure that he would have a structurally sound mass with which to work. Over the course of building hundreds of small people from mud he had gotten quite skilled at this craft. Only when he was content with the sound that a slap against the block produced, a deep, saturated thud, would he proceed to sculpt. With deliberate slowness he worked from the general form to the details. Many times a form had collapsed when he had tried to overemphasize a movement or had placed the limbs too far outside the center of gravity. In the beginning he had tried to use sticks to support an arm reaching out or a leg stepping forward and though technically that solution had worked he didn’t like that the figure now seemed to defy the laws of gravity that nature put on the material and form. It was thus almost impossible by the mere use of sticks and clay alone to sculpt an outreached limb that looked natural. So he had returned to work from the inner core of the material and to rather hint at a movement that – though invisible – the eye would project into the empty space. He was always intrigued by what he could see without seeing it. He liked the way his sculptures randomly related to one another, all he had to do was to quietly look at both sculptures and discover this relationship of forms. Something deep inside him stirred when he looked at his creations and their silent endurance. He could see the form of the space in between two physical forms, it was nothing and yet visible if one cared to look, it changed constantly, stretched and diminished, even disappeared. It was actually easier for him to comprehend the properties of this in between space than the form itself. You could get out of the trajectory of any moving object if you controlled that space. If you made that space in between adhere to your inner voice you did not need sticks to build a figure. Why, you barely needed your hands, all you had to do was to look long and hard, look at the clay monolith and make some slight adjustments. Soon his people were crouching, stretching, running, turning. He took great pleasure from this.

His father began to take notice too. One night when he had returned home from the workshop the little garden patch had first caught his attention. In the twilight the clay sculptures his son had build in the afternoon had a strange quality of perfection. There were seven fresh sculptures, six of them crouching on the ground, the seventh a small figure in flight, emerging out of a block of brick-colored earth, running.
From a distance it had seemed that all sculptures possessed distinct personalities and bore individual facial features. Something about these features seemed oddly familiar to the stonemason. Upon closer inspection he realized though that the impression of an actually sculpted face dissipated from a nearer perspective – but reinstated itself the moment he stepped back like a magical trick. The inability to confirm his initial finding, to come closer to the truth, was intriguing to him. He asked himself how a not yet six year old child could have created such a sophisticated illusion. He didn’t ever doubt that the impression was created deliberately. He studied the people his son had made for a long time. Inside the house the light from the boy’s bedroom shone dimly through the drawn curtains.

Fall from Grace / excerpt from a new novel, working title: the stone mason

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For the stonemason in particular the death of his stillborn son felt like a betrayal. It was as if he had livd in the never acknowledged faith that his profession granted him some kind of special reprieve from death, that someone had agreed to that it was not to occur in his private life as long as he continued to carve memorials for the dead, and that this someone now had let him down. He was an atheist in the service of the church and loosing his unborn child felt like a disciplinary measure for his godlessness. Like many atheists he had a system of inner convictions that replaced religion. He did not believe in a creator, an organizer, a final judge, and yet he felt like he had fallen from grace.

Iris quietly  lived in the shadow of their loss, simply mourning and nourishing the inconceivable thought that they should now never know him, their son, certainly not by the way of a new pregnancy as friends and relatives suggested. These well-meaning people did not realize that the depth of her grief was rooted in the very circumstances that they thought would alleviate the loss – the fact that neither she nor anybody else had ever seen this child alive; that it had in fact never been born in the true sense as he had died in utero. Her grief was that her child had lived, if ever so briefly, unknown to her, and that she would never know it. She sat at the kitchen table with her encyclopedia and with a three hair sable brush paint stamp-sized paintings on miniature panels of oak wood while thinking about all the small things she would not ever know about her son. She wouldn’t know his face. She wouldn’t know the sound of his voice. She would never hear him laugh. She would never hold him in her arms. And yet he had lived.

The Twelve Nights of Christmas, the journey concluded: Night 12, the Mechanics of Longing

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The title came as swiftly as the image and the artist obeyed both. The Mechanics of Longing.

This drawing concludes my twelve night drawing meditation. As the new year is already starting to make its demands, these drawings carry with them 12 nights of focus on a non-revealed question. Sometimes during those twelve nights I felt I could catch a glimpse of things yet to be. Now there will be time to look at these pieces for a while, maybe polish them a bit.I’ll keep you posted.

New artistic challenges are ahead for the year.

January 15th is the deadline for another Sketchbook Project of the Brooklyn Art Llibrary, check out the website if you haven’t yet. Their digital library is stunning.

http://www.sketchbookproject.com/library/13754 The link will take you to my previous year contribution “The Whisper”, a simple, wistful story about a childhood memory.

My new book, a young adult science fiction novel, is about to be finished and another one waiting to be continued on my desk.

In Fall I hope to open an exhibition of 41 canvases, acrylic on raw jute canvas (aka coffee and chocolate bags) in Berlin, 30 of which are finished by now. The 12 nights have strengthened my will to continue living in multiple universes.

Thank you for following my blog, this certainly  is the day to acknowledge that my readers are an important part of my creative discipline. It is a good thought that someone may be going to weigh the outcome of a night’s work and maybe find some use for it, if only in the fleeting way that art, all art, can enrich a moment.

I am wishing you, my readers, all the courage, health and gladness necessary to live a meaningful New Year and if you should be lacking any one of these for some of all of the time the will to give it your best shot anyways! 

Working with young artists

IMG_5531Working with Young Artists

By trade I am a lawyer. Many lawyers do have a passion besides their original profession though, I happen to have three, if you count my love for children in general and my own children in particular. The other two are writing and art. I mention this because you will surely want to know how I am qualified to “teach art” or as I prefer to say: to work with and alongside young artists.

My grandmother used to say I have been born with a brush in one and in pen in my other hand – and as far as I can remember I have been scribbling and drawing on every appropriate surface – and some less suited. That I came to study law is strange, all things considered, but I guess I wanted to try out if I could succeed doing something else and law had always been intriguing to me. It turned out that I could succeed. I graduated with two law degrees – and came straight back to art. And at some point I started doing it both: art and law. Kids have always played a role. I have been teaching all kinds of classes, art and law, over the last ten years, and it has been a truly rewarding part of my life, not just my professional life. As you might imagine, I am never asked how I qualify to teach legal workshops, I am a lawyer after all, but often how come I teach art as well.

I do believe that art is not the esoteric, isolated endeavor that people sometimes take it to be. Artists are well advised to take notice of their world and have an understanding of it that transcends the visual. Beuys pointed out that every person is an artist, that artistic creation is at the center of human life. He went as far as demanding that every physician, scientist, philosopher be first trained in art. I will venture further by saying that the art world would profit if artists would first be trained in a trade that explores the practical aspects of their environment. Every artist is part of a tangible social reality. The training to become a lawyer might in the end not be either so far from or so detrimental to artistic process as is might seem at first.

Why I do love to work with young artists? Because it refreshing to leave the stereotypes that people retreat to as they become older. Every child I have ever had the pleasure to meet turned out to be an original artist (albeit sometimes a frustrated one …).
I respect the creative work children are capable of. As a first hand witness and as someone who still draws and paints, saws and glues every day: There is no time like childhood to experience the joy of art.

I had the good luck to be raised by a grandmother who had the wisdom of an older generation to pretty much let me do whatever I thought appropriate as long as I did not nail her good table linens onto a broomstick for a pirate sail (happened only once) or cut out my great grandmother’s lace to make curtains for fairy dwellings, also a one time never to happen again situation.

However I was allowed to make use of any tool that I would find in my grandfathers tool shed or in the kitchen without anyone trying to figure out if they were child appropriate. I was also allowed to make generous use of old newspapers and magazines, of the newsprint paper that my grandfather, who was publisher of a local newspaper, brought home, and in general of every piece of metal, screw, paper, feather, stone or yes, glass! that I would pick up on our long walks. It never occurred to my grandparents that I might pick up some dangerous germs on the way.

I brought everything home and assembled it very much the way every child will when you do not interfere. I do not know where our desire to “make” things has its origin but I do know that we already possess it as children, together with an instinct of how things fit together. If children are not allowed to roam as freely as I was, they will still build markers from pebbles and stones, they’d still use sticks to draw in sand, build strange, improvised gardens in mud, decorate prefabricated play structures with ritual signs.

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of  long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.

To come back to the question of my own expertise: I do believe with visionary clarity that it is not my academic expertise that is relevant. It is my willingness to acknowledge and celebrate children as the artists they are. I do believe that art is not a matter of paper and ink, of perspective and shading, I do believe though art techniques can be taught art cannot, no more than breathing, walking, seeing. It is something that happens when things go right or when you have to make them come out right. Art is life.

MONSTER Nr. 23

One wild thing: on closer inspection of these canvases you'd find bits and pieces of found objects enclosed such as children cherish. Pieces of beach glass substitute for teeth, small beads, glitter, all children I know love glitter!, keys and bottle caps and lost and found buttons. When did we forget to spin the dream, when did our world cease to hold small promises of meaning and adventure, a life time of stories still to be told? How did we grow up to forget the sensual richness of the world, the intense pleasure we can find only in  simple things and moments. When did we cease to live today in order to reach for a tomorrow that we never truly know will exist - and if it does it comes only to be given up and traded in for yet another tomorrow until there is none anymore? When did we start squandering our present moments for squalid projections? When did we tire of that what we have , right here and right now, the word, the discovery of nothing and everything, the breath of boredom and adventure alike? Ask an expert what life could be like, go hunt for chestnuts and bottle caps and pieces of this and that lost and found. Talk to a stranger and as for their story, smile every once in a while even if convention doesn't require you to, lift your eyes up and look at the disorderly lines of roofs and antennas and imagine Karlsson living up there somewhere or go to your knees and pick up something that glitters without whisking out a disinfectant afterwards. Be a MONSTER. Breathe. There is still some life to be had. Laugh without any particular reason. MONSTER Nr. 23

One wild thing: on closer inspection of these canvases you’d find bits and pieces of found objects enclosed such as children cherish. Pieces of beach glass substitute for teeth, small beads, glitter, all children I know love glitter!, keys and bottle caps and lost and found buttons.

When did we forget to spin the dream, when did our world cease to hold small promises of meaning and adventure, a life time of stories still to be told? How did we grow up to forget the sensual richness of the world, the intense pleasure we can find only in simple things and moments? When did we cease to live today in order to reach for a tomorrow that we never truly know will exist – and if it does, it comes only to be given up and traded in for yet another tomorrow until there is no tomorrow left? When did we start squandering our present moments for squalid projections of who we could be if only? When did we tire of that what we have , right here and right now, the word, the discovery of nothing and everything, the breath of boredom and adventure alike?

Ask an expert, a child no older than six, what life could be like if you’d find it again, go hunt for chestnuts and bottle caps and pieces of this and that, lost and found. Talk to a stranger and ask for their story, smile every once in a while even if convention doesn’t require it, lift your eyes up and look at the disorderly lines of roof shingles, chimneys and antennas and in your mind create a stage for a play that involves precarious acts of balance and skill. Think “Karlsson” by Astrid Lindgren.

Go down to your knees, seeking the perspective of a five year old,  and pick something from the ground that glitters just because it catches your eye – without whisking out a disinfectant afterwards. Be a MONSTER. Breathe. Laugh without any particular reason. Be the absolutely unremarkable, remarkable YOU you were born to be. Nothing more, nothing less. MONSTER Nr. 23

The little gargoyle

A picture taken by Charles Negre in 1853. Of H...

A picture taken by Charles Negre in 1853. Of Henri Le Secq near the ‘Stryge’ chimera on Notre Dame de Paris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Embedded in the otherwise raw stone was the face of a little boy. The details were not worked out but still the image unmistakably was that of a child. His eyes were almost closed; he had round cheeks and a high, equally round forehead. The face was still and yet there was something disturbing in these childish, lovely features, a hint of pain not overcome.

After a protracted moment of meditation, like a period of silence between two people who do not know how to talk to each other but do not want to part ways just yet, the mason had taken up his tools and finished his work. Within the hour he had transformed the boy into a beast by adding spiked ears, pointed horns on his head, a hairy body, large hands and feet and a curled-up tail, all roughly fashioned. He then had put down his instruments, and without evaluating his just completed work again, had turned away from the boy and had left.

looking down at the stars

looking down at the stars

When I was five, my mother, an artist, told me that over time the use of the words “up” and “down” had been reversed through what she called “accumulated acts of lazy thinking”. Consequently, she told me, people had gotten … Continue reading

Without opening my eyes, I carefully and with a sense of controlled terror extended my other hand…

I lay curled up like a cat and I could feel the curve of my spine, I could feel my knees against my chest and my hand underneath my cheek. Without opening my eyes, I carefully and with a sense of controlled terror extended my other hand to feel the surface of my quilt. I would know the stitching of its pattern, the softness of the filling having long since relaxed against the fabric. My fingers gently touched the surface. I hesitated. It felt grainy. Not grainy like cookie crumbles. Grainy, like sand. When I thought “sand”, I shoved my fingers deeper into the surface. They did not meet much resistance. I pushed easily into the sand like I would, aimlessly, on a beautiful day on the beach. All the while the surface underneath me was breathing. I had to open my eyes to find myself. I wondered whether I was still dreaming, and for a moment considered trying to drift back into nothingness, but I felt wide awake, too awake.

So I did. I opened my eyes. It was not dark at all as I had fully expected, yet the sun was pale, far away in the winter sky, just so illuminating the grey mists rising up from the water. I knew where I was. I was most definitely not on my bed in Summerville, NJ. I was curled up, like the sole survivor of a ship wreck, on the shore of a lake. I sat up, stunned, on the wet sand, numb with cold as much as with surprise. I knew the beach. It was small. I had spent many summers here with my family. I was sitting on the North Shore Beach of Lake Willoughby.

All things considered, it was strange that my mind accepted this truth so readily. I didn’t think: I must be dreaming. I didn’t look for an explanation.

the earth itself, underneath my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on

How hard my mind had to work to keep control, to still try to make sense out of a wealth on information that had long stopped to be apprehensible by any rules I had been led to understand applied. But only submission to the world of grown-ups would have you believe that they were – in general – truthful about the world. I didn’t believe this anymore but tried to rely on my own senses instead. It was treacherous ground.

For example that night. As I lay in the dark, eyes closed though wide awake, the surface of my bed felt soft as was to be expected, but it felt soft in the way I had experienced and shied away from before. It seemed to be soft in an organic, breathing way. I tried to distinguish between my own breathing pattern and the breathing of that soft, pliable surface I felt underneath my body.  It was an uncanny feeling – but just ask yourself how many sensations you can really clearly distinguish besides soft and hard, warm and cold, pain and pleasure. Truth is, you constantly rely on additional sensations and context to tell you about the thing you are experiencing through just one of your senses to make sense of something.

What was it that I was feeling? Something that I feared, but I didn’t know why I feared it or whether I had reason to fear it in the first place as I was completely unaware of its nature. All I knew was that last time I checked my bed had not been breathing. As before it felt actually – and it made perfect sense to think those words as irrational as they might seem – that the earth itself, underneath my feet, my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t explain to myself where that strange idea actually orginated. Nothing I had read or talked about lately had pointed in that direction. Remember, there was no internet and but little TV. None in our house, by the way.

And yet, I just felt it, right there and then, the surface underneath me belonged to something alive, and I knew I had to open my eyes to find out what was going on, but I was entirely too scared to live up to my own imaginative ability. All I could manage to do, pathetically,  was to continue breathing slowly just as I had done during those long ago nights when I had led some non-existing intruder to believe that I was asleep. And with each moment the sensation of a sighing, breathing surface underneath my body was getting stronger.

god and a decade ending with the brief and delirious ruling of acid freaks, post feminists and de-constructors of language

When I thought about the idea of god waking me (or not) I became afraid. There was a German lullaby by Brahms that my then ancient great-grandmother used to sing to me when I was really very little which ended with the words: “Tomorrow morning, if God wants so,
you will wake once again.…”  Our family life was altogether politically non-theistic, except for the great-grandmother who passed away when I was about four, but the idea of god deciding about my waking in the morning was still disconcerting. What if he did not want to? On a whim? Would I just sleep forever? Would I die? What if he plain forgot about me?

When I had asked my mother about the song she had explained to me that the lyrics dated to a time when it was understood that everything – everything – happened only with god’s consent and that these lines, by their content, did not deal primarily with the idea of god remembering to wake people or not.

I don’t know whether that explanation did much to put my anxiety to rest, I think probably not. But it certainly was with relief that one day I realized that I actively did not believe in god. That was an easy attitude to acquire in my family, by the way, and an easy attitude in that decade following the sixties, a decade ending with the brief and delirious ruling of acid freaks, post feminists and de-constructors of language which left a lasting impression on western societies and which was my intellectual parents’ undeniable contribution to a new cultural value system, a system that allowed for people like them to unfold their wings and discover entirely new horizons and ideas.  I don’t remember that we had ever attended any church service. Even wedding ceremonies in my parents’ circle of friends and family were civil ceremonies. No baptisms. Still, God remained a quaint distant relation who, after a history of misfortunes, had found asylum in old nursery rhymes and lyrics. All but forgotten and without charitable visitors, but hanging on.

My parents’ were avidly confessing atheists for many years until older age and the dawning sense of their own mortality softened their rhetoric. And yet, my childish sense of superstition, during the phase of their most decided and articulated stand on the topic, detected an ominous quality to the concept “god” and it took some years and my awakening intellect to overcome the threatening taste the fear of that forgotten but lingering god left in my mind. Maybe god explained and explored would have been easier to understand but I was pretty much left to my own devices to figure out what the idea of god stood for.  I vaguely feared god until I shed that fear pretty much like I had shed the fear of the nightly intruder eventually. Only much later did it occur to me that the elimination of god did not erase the randomness and with it the terror of the unpredictable nature of death.