It is 10pm and I am sitting in a Tibetan restaurant off Bergmanstrausse in Kruezberg, sharpening my already sophisticated eavesdropping skills. The nerdy expat students are hanging out eating goat milk dumplings and talking about where the cool kids hang out (warehouse parties on the outskirts of Leipzig) – boring – Oh wait – conspiracy theories… Apparently high doses of fluoride in water causes docility – this is why Hitler was adamant about dental health for the people. It was really to do with mind control.*
Prior to coming to Berlin, I organized a masterclass with a locally based teacher and painter, Eoin Llewellyn. We met this morning at the National Gallerie and looked at many paintings, deconstructing the technique. A great deal of the artists we looked at are German and I had little knowledge of most of them but so glad to have discovered some gutsy painters.
Menzel and Blechen stood out for me but there was a lesson to be learned from Casper David Friedrich and it was about quiet and ‘breath’ in the handling rather than concepts of the sublime. In Menzel, though his handling is energetic and loose, there are always areas that are barely touched beyond the imprimatura. This gives the painting air and space and serves to bring attention to the areas of great energy without overwhelming the viewer.
We also discussed processes for home made mediums (which are pure and do not have any of the additives that factories add). Eoin was also advocating the reduction of solvent use in my practice. I don’t use much as it is but he made me realize that I really don’t need to use any.
The side of the National Gallerie is undergoing a refurbishment and Eoin explained that a great deal of historic buildings are still being repaired from WWII. He then pointed out the bullet holes in the walls that we were passing. I was shocked to see this. Had I been looking at the wall without this explanation - it probably would not have occurred to me that that the texture was this - I'm so unused to seeing such a thing. I have attached a picture below - many of the walls in Berlin look like this.
For lunch we had crepes in a food market in Kreuzberg, which were completely and utterly divine and went to Eoin’s studio to put into practice some of the things that I had observed in the gallery.
At this stage in my development as a painter, it is very insightful to have someone watch me paint and point out habits that I have that I barely notice. After discussing with Eoin the things that I wanted to achieve in my work, he was able to observe my technique and highlight why these things are eluding me. At times this was frustrating because, as with all change, our tendency is to resist. We worked right through into the evening. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day and I have learned many valuable lessons. I am excited to get back to my own studio to put them into practice.
*I googled this when I got home and there are actually plenty of websites that suggest that fluoride consumption can lead to lowered IQ together with a list of other health side effects such as bone cancer - interesting.