As the year slowly proceeds to close a chapter and open a new one in a few weeks, we gather around with our families and friends, sharing laughter as well as a few tears. We find ourselves reminiscing, rediscovering old and almost forgotten passages in our lives; we infuse a warm internal breath into these memories before passing them along to another generation for safekeeping. Though the stories are altered with each subsequent retelling, there changes over the years weave the very fibers of fabric that binds families and friends together under one blanket.
Thank you for stopping by and I hope you are
surrounded with the sounds of laughter
and the fragrances of good food set
among family and friends on this
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 had been on another one of my photographic excursions, documenting empty structures that were surrounded by a new residential and part business redevelopment on a former company owned community referred to as The Hercules Dynamite Factory. The majority of the former homes and other structures were boarded up, but in some cases, concealed openings could be discovered that teenagers had created looking for adventure and excitement.
Self-portrait with shattered mirror
Ladies Room — Hercules, California, May 22, 2005
Through one of these openings I had entered and explored for the past hour or so, a number of smaller rooms that were adjacent to the ballroom and dining hall, all of which looked as though it dated back to the early 1940’s. I had closed my eyes, pretended to hear the Andrews Sisters singing and stomping their feet to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B or Rum or Coca Cola, with walls reverberating the energy of the band and the sound of a clarinet. Yet all that could now be heard was a deadening silence interrupted by an occasional vehicle passing by.
I continued photographing, focusing at times on areas of the building that could tell a visual story of a child being physical and mental abused and that which it had suffered be reflected in the remains of these interiors, when I came upon the ladies room and a shattered mirror.
From a technical standpoint this is not my best work, when viewed from the esthetics and especially what it represents personally, the photograph captured the essence of a childhood lost through the eyes of an adult.
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 Berlin Wall – Section 276, January 17, 1990
Multi-Medium on canvas, 36 x 36 inches (91.44 x 91.44 cm)
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.
My East German passport stamps
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.
At Four Seasons in a Life you can see photographs of the remaining Berlin Wall and it's refurbishing by the original 86 international artists in time for the celebration to mark twenty years since its downfall.