Color is Life – my Life is Color
When I first realized that color matters, I was in 5th grade. Until then, I just painted whatever I wanted. In 5th grade, our teacher tried to teach us how to mix colors properly. All children were told that blue and yellow mixes green, and red and blue mixes lilac. As all other children had a brand new Pelican watercolor set, the recipe worked well for them. For some reason, my mother was convinced, that her ancient metal watercolor case with almost dried out colors from her childhood was something special and far better than anything new. Thus, all my enthusiastic efforts to create something as beautiful as lilac ended up in brown. Same for orange (red and yellow goes bright brown) or green (yellow and blue turn stomach-ache-brown) or lilac (red and blue end up cold brown). I even once tried to cheat and used a premixed lilac my best friend had in her watercolor-set. However, as it was such a bright and wonderful lilac, my teacher immediately sensed my atrocity.
The good thing was: I developed a good taste for various shades of brown. Very early in life I was a professional brown painter, you could say. This worked fine, until sometime later the given task at art lesson was to paint the most wonderful vacation memory we ever had. No problem, you would say. No problem, I thought and started to paint my favorite recollection of summer holidays: the little sun-yellow house in southern France my grandfather owned, with Filou the brown dog, red peaches on sun-freckled green peach trees, gray-brown lizards lazy laying on bright white walls around the bright white pebble stone covered front yard. Bright white. How to paint bright white? It was in the early eighties and still some adults abhorred opaque white in a children’s watercolor set. Especially, some enthusiastic amateur artists. Especially, my mother. So what I did in lack of opaque white was leaving all the yard with no color – bare and white as the paper was, but some occasional colored dots (yellow, red, blue) for bright white not only being white, of course. Until my teacher got mad at me as she did not consider my picture finished. We argued but I lost (that was the last time I let a teacher win about art-opinions). Anyway, I finished the picture with my usual brown matter, which I put on all my pictures. I covered the whole yard with mud-brown brush-strokes (I tried to save my original red and yellow dots) but in the end I ruined my summer-memory and it looked as if France in summertime resembles India after the devastation of a recently abated monsoon flood.
In the following years, I improved my brown-painting. In fact, I started to like brown al lot. I did some summer-jobs so I could afford better colors: gouache colors in tubes or even better in huge blocks. At that time, gouache colors in tubes came affordable in sets with eight colors (including white), so I even swapped all my white gouache colors with a friend of mine who loved all bright colors. With my color set (carmin red, magenta, cyan, ultramarine, cold yellow, warm yellow, swapped double black and no white) I painted brown pictures, abstract as it felt right at that time, expressive, and a bit pubertal, of course.
At the end of my school career, I took art as my main subject. Our teacher tried to teach us as much of his technique as he could. He loved wet-in-wet techniques with numberless layers of almost identical pictures. I liked to paint alla prima because it did not make any sense to me to repaint something countless times that was already said and done. My landscapes were green (sky) and red (some interstellar planet) and deserted instead of green (earth) and blue (sky). I dyed my hair red.
After school, at first I was trained to be a cabinet maker. The next three years there was not much about color in my life. Every now and then, I continued my abstract brown pictures and added some (brown colored) stones for a relief appearance. I was surprised that this crap was accepted at the one or other local art-exhibition. As painting seemed to be something constant in my life, I decided to go to art school. You need to have a portfolio for an application. As this was academic, I thought I might put first landscapes and second nudes in my portfolio. I bought a brand new watercolor (aquarelle) box and surprisingly my landscapes were colorful and poetic and probably kitschy as I painted my beloved little Bavarian village and the mountains around. I did not want the colors to meet, so I separated my colorful tiny brush strokes and left a little white in between all colors. All colors had space to live. Concerning nudes, I drew them green.
At art school, I continued to paint landscapes (and nudes, I was very interested in both). On very small cardboard plates, I pictured the bright sun and mostly yellow flowers on appetizing green meadows under the pale blue Bavarian sky. I loved to climb on a small hummock close to my house and paint the shades of blue of the vanishing mountains of Allgäu alps with the gouache-painting I used at school. With it, the surface of the painting preserved the traces of brush but did not shine at all. The pictures were done with next to no discomfort in odor, transport or financial trouble. People loved them and I sold them at unbelievably high prices. The only disadvantage was that these colors were not waterproof. The cardboard I painted on was neither. However, at that time I slowly developed a longing for eternity. For something that would last for a while and not be fragile at all. I did various experiments with nerve-wracking slow drying oil paint and poisonous fast-dry-additives, with artificial acrylic painting that developed the appearance of raincoats, with egg-tempera that rotted like eggs do after a while, with daring mixtures of all of them that kept my surviving legacy of early works manageable. Of course, I knew and know about the required rules of these techniques, but I sometimes do not like the looks of proper paintings or I love the appearance of a technically wrongly painted picture.
I am still deep in research. Every now and then I have to sort out some pictures because of obvious mistakes in technique that lead to unwanted craquelure or worse. I love to work close to flow experience. This means, I stopped all complicated techniques and home cooking color making. I even rejected most ”artist quality” colors and use basically ”study quality” products to minimize all unnecessary effort during color-mixing. Of course there is some special blue, some special orange some special red or yellow you don’t get in ”study quality”. This is where I need the high quality paint tubes – oil or acrylic or whatever. And the brand does matter. There are huge differences between brands. Maybe not regarding absolute quality but with respect to the types of pigments, of additives and medium, so as a painter, you do have to know your materials. My studio still looks like an alchemist’s kitchen, and as I don’t plan to die early, my life will continue to be color. Especially after the experience of Ruovesi Art Project. Ever since, I painted Landscapes at least once a year. In a way like binge-painting. Excessive – always about 20 in a row – and with a lot of orange I still have to figure out what for. The orange is more exquisite than the other colors and strictly acrylics. To my surprise, I love to paint the landscapes with vinyl colors. These are sturdy and unpretentious – often used to paint ships. They don’t shine and they are durable. Pictures painted with vinyl have the appearance of old oil-color paintings. If it was not for the orange, you might look for an 19th century painters name on the surface. You will find mine on the backside of the canvas. Because painting is about the picture, the color on the front side of each canvas. Color is life.
Nuremberg, May 2016