NOTICE: All images featured in this article retain their original copyrights to whom they were issued.
There have been a number of self-portraits over the last thirty-five or forty years, which have marked periods and events in my life, and over the course of these many years the photographs have captured various stages of appearance and the state of my health. Mostly all but one were shot in a controlled environment, carefully setting a stage in my studio with a proper background and lighting, including an extra long cable release. However ‘Self-portrait with shattered mirror’ was unplanned and completely spontaneous.
I remember following the news for almost four weeks with great intensity as East Germans were successfully escaping to the west and when the Brandenburg Tor opened on September 11, 1989, it signaled the end of a divided Germany. I wanted to fly to Berlin, taking my son with me and for us to be part of the history in the making. However Armont was only one year, a month, and three days old at the time when the fall of the Berlin Wall was marked officially down on November 9, 1989. To personally mark the event, I started a 36 x 36 inch painting, which for me represents my own beginning as an artist, even though it would take another ten years before I would pick up my brushes again, and seriously returned to the profession of painting.
The abstract painting noting the fall of the Berlin Wall is one of the few canvases that were created spontaneously, reaching for whatever paints and art materials I had on hand. Using acrylic house paint, model craft spray paint, children’s crayons and of course oil paint, I went at the canvas as if lead by a mysterious hand guiding me through the various stages and the multiple layers until it was completed. In the end The Berlin Wall – Section 276 also represents what I encountered in 1974, when standing before the wall for the first time.
I grew up in the shadows of the Berlin Wall as construction started August 13, 1961 while living in Southern Germany, attending a private boarding school until my return to Californian the following year. I found myself in Berlin nine years later attending the HFBK as a guest and once more in 1974, when I decided to take a train through East Germany rather than flying to Berlin.
The train ride took several hours, stopping at most towns along the way. During our trip into the DDR, our train was boarded by East German soldiers with submachine weaponry and remained posted at each end of the compartment until we reached the West Berlin border. We were also treated to East German propaganda, handed out by the DDR Cultural Ministry personnel upon our first stop after entering East Germany. The experience is one I am grateful for, despite the lapses in memory which is also weak on a number of other points, especially the details of what the landscaped looked like, other than empty.
I still have a number of those booklets and smaller pamphlets that were handed out that day. They are in some box that have not been opened since they were packed when I moved out of my San Francisco apartment to get married some twenty-two years ago. I did find my out-of-date passport, turning to the page the East German border control stamped my arrival, departure into their land. With the subsequent arrival and departure stamps on the same page a few days later, as I returned to the West the same way I had left, with a long train ride though East Germany.
The Berlin Wall remained closed until September 11, 1989, six months later on March 10, 1990 Germany reunification took place.
As I greatly value each ‘Follower’, I have also had the good fortune of establishing friendships through the private exchange of correspondence, which I hold very close to my heart. So when I received this heartfelt and sincere ‘blog award’ from Trudi at Two Dresses Studio yesterday, I was deeply touched and of course very surprised. A big thanks followed by a California style bear hug for Trudi.
Artist working with different kinds of medium experience from time to time different phases, adjusting ones visual compass, afterwards returning to any project left undone and seeing it with a new vision. As I have looked back these numerous weeks upon the body of my work, from writing, photography, collage, painting, or drawing, even my attempts at combining any of these expressive forms, it seems I am still seeking a different structure of expressing my thoughts or creative urgings, not having settled into a comfortable set of combinations with a predictable outcome.
Digital duo-tone photograph, December 7, 2007
Postscript: When the time is right, I will share with you the images in which the heart and soul became one with the mind.
As new fliers are stapled to the poles, old ones are torn off, leaving behind fragments held in place by which they were fastened. It is these snippets of randomness that have evolved from just being a captured photographic image, by becoming an artistic vision, a concept that is replicated on canvas or on a wooden pallet.
By not only gathering photographic evidence but also actual source material from telephone poles and from billboards, especially walls that were plastered with posters; larger pieces of art could now considered possible.
The transitional period from working with just representational photographs to actually attempting a painting or a collage painting occurred in stages that continued for almost four years, beginning with HOWL, a painting which took 2½ years to complete.
Just before HOWLwas finished, another canvas was started, using materials torn from billboards in Berkeley and Emeryville and applied in a more graphic design application, rather then using the embodiment approach as with Orderly Confusion.
The key distinction between the first two paintings lies in the usage of the collage material as being the initial surface upon which the painting is build and the word ‘BEAUTY’ is spray painted on. In comparison to HOWL, the illusion of torn materials were first painted, then newsprint was adhered to, only to be torn off, before adding the local newspaper covers simulating posters.
Before HOWL was considered completed, the first four lines from Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem Howl were added, bringing together the social implications of the newspaper image and purpose of the painting to which it had evolved into. Though Beauty Re-defined was also finished with a handwritten commentary, it however reflects graffiti by the hand of a stranger.
The smallest of the painting in this genre series also represents the truest forms of embodiment textural qualities of the telephone poles one finds in Berkeley. In order to achieve true embodiment and visual authenticity, an integral part of this collage painting, actual pieces of ephemeral material were collected from telephone poles I had photographed, along with various rusted and almost new staples and then reassembled in a design of my choosing. Paying careful attention to duplicating reality, any painterly evidence had been carefully disguised as not to draw immediate attention to it.
The materials used came from telephone poles, billboards, and a large number of posters that had been plastered on walls at a number of different construction sites and were carefully torn from these locations with the intent of using only specific pieces of interest from the actual posters.
Since no other materials other than the collected pieces of papers had being used, careful attention was being paid to the interaction of each piece and its overall placement in the composition as a whole. Making sure that visual movement and points of key interest was given with no more and no less of attention then the piece next to it, even though one item by far outshined all others and remains the main focal point in the composition.
There are plans for a few more collage paintings, especially one very large endeavor, measuring 4 x 6 feet (121.92x182.88 cm) in size and utilizing source material and paint.
On my very first excursion I had discovered a unique site with an open shipping gate and no visible individuals around to keep me from having entered. To me, this was and is nothing more than a green light, an invitation to continue, so I had ventured passed the gate and cautiously explored the premises.
Besides the large main building, there were two smaller structures, all empty of machinery or anything else, however for me I had just discovered an abundance of textures, but it would need to be ignored in favor of the architecture and the surrounding ambiance. For the site resembled either a slacher or futuristic film set in which survivors of the human race battling each other over petroleum or other rare commodity. I had discovered a photographers dream and I had been standing right in the middle of it.
In previous times I would just have just trespassed because when I had asked for permission, the answer received was always a resounding ‘No’, so it come as a huge surprise when two of the firms I asked, said they would check with the property owner and for me to call back after few days.
The situation at the last company was very different as the owner himself approved my request, which allowed me to proceed to the warehouse immediately, where I quickly set out capturing the very shots I felt were beyond my reach.
A week later I called Coulter Forge and learned that I had been given the opportunity to photograph and upon my return visit, John, one of the managers, showed me around the grounds and we agreed on some fundamental ground rules for my safety.
Whenever the weather was overcast and I had the energy—considering I was still in recovery—I would stop off at the front office of Coulter Forge and ask if it were all right to take some more photographs. By now I had also learned what clothing to wear, especially how to protect the shoes from the materials that covered the ground of the foundry, however my tripod was another matter and always required cleaning after each visit.
Over the next couple of months there were about five, maybe six visits to the foundry and every time it felt like seeing an old friend, as the surroundings and I became more comfortable with each other.
No longer being dazzled by the location, I had been able to see beyond the machinery and discover the intimacy of many years and the many hands that had left their mark and were now being ‘written by light’ into images the mind beheld when the camera had been positioned on the tripod.
The first couple of visits the focus had been on the over all environment and the larger machinery, with subsequent returns this had shifted towards discovering the human elements, like the tools they used day in and day out or any personal belongs accidentally left behind and forgotten.
Even though the workshop is dusty and dirty from all the different metal fragments, there was a certain charm and beauty that I found totally irresistible.
It has now been almost three years since I last visited the plant and at some point I would like to go back to arrange a time and capture individual portraits of the crew, for as one looks at these pictures it feels like the nineteen forties or the fifties if not even earlier in the century.
I also cannot help but wondering how much longer such an industry as this can remain in business as it competes against a global economy or the rapid technological changes and yet I feel that if we lose such a place as Coulter Forge to modernization, we lose not only a place of business where everyone is family, we endure a far greater loss of human possibilities and endurance.
This post is part of the series: We are all Addicted to our Past . . .
All images taken with a Sony DSC-V1, full frame