Portraits & Passages

Chapter 29

She Dreams She Flies Barcelona 50

The German Girl  “She Dreams She Flies”  Paris 1994

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. - Rumi

Entartete Kunst    Degenerate Art

 I suppose Paris has always been a little magical for me. When I visited my friend Alexandra there in April1994 I may have been sending and receiving much more  acutely than normal. To be honest I was in search of adventure, but then again, it’s Paris! In Pittsburgh I had been pent up with attending to what I could for my  mother in intensive care for more than a month. I had found her collapsed from pneumonia, and when later she could speak, she shook her head at me: “You fool.  Why did you bring me back! I was already on the other side. Now I have to go through all of this again!”

So the trip to Paris was the reward that I gave myself to unleash the tensions of those endless weeks in hospital waiting rooms. But there was more – I had been  stagnant. My painting was dried up and directionless. I had been to Paris only once before since leaving it in the spring of 1971, and that was briefly in 1985. I knew  that I needed it, and with Alexandra working at Regifilm, her family’s business in Paris, I had a friend there.

At the diner party Alexandra gave the first night that I was in Paris, a guest was raving about a Nicolas de Stael exhibition at the Hotel de Ville. When I decided to  go the next day I did not imagine that what would occur there would catapult me out of my old zombie life, nor did I reckon at what price!

At the Hotel de Ville there were numerous adjoining rooms that make up the exhibition space. I had just entered a crowded gallery and placing myself at the  center turned round to look at the small paintings first from a distance. It was more like some theatrical entrance playing to an audience than an anonymous person  looking at paintings, or at least, that was my impression from the energy radiating from her. I said in an inaudible whisper: “Dear Lord, send someone like that to me.”  One should be careful of what one prays for!

I don’t believe she saw me at all. Her whole concentration was on the paintings as she stood tall on tiptoe extending herself high to look over the crowd. It was like  watching a ballet. But I couldn’t take it; I was already hooked. You may know what I mean when I say that I was loving it and hating it. And when I am rattled like  that I run for cover. I left the room. The next space was completely empty as I diagonally crossed to the far end of the gallery to sit down on a bench. I decided to wait and watch her passing by on her return.

I didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds, which was quite unexpected. It was even more unexpected for her to stop at the threshold of the doorway and with a  nod to herself look towards me, walk straight to where I was sitting, drop right down right beside me, and ask first in French, then immediately in English: “What do you think of the paintings?”

We talked for a short while. She said that she was a ceramicist and dancer when I asked if she were a painter. I had noticed her strong hands. Then she went back to  the show. I wandering away became so flustered that I left the building in a sort of rushing panic. I went almost two blocks before I made myself turn around and go  back. Strangely enough the guards must have guessed that I just went out for as smoke and let me reenter.

She was in the last room writing something in the guest registry. I approached and asked her if she’d like to go for a coffee. She did. She was leaving that evening for  Hamburg and asked me if I had ever been in Germany. I said: “Je suis jeuf.” She responded: “I know.” Two days later I was in Hamburg.


Artist with The Performer, 1994 (Vincennees, France)

The rest of the story spiraled into madness. From Pittsburgh, a cascade of intense letters soon provoked evasions. She refused the idea of my going to Hamburg. I  made arrangements to move to Paris, and was there by August. Dressed in half-hearted invitations, the evasions continued until finally in November she allowed  me to visit her at her parents’ in Wiesbaden where she right from the first instance at the train station began her emotional massacre. I knew then at the first insult to  have handed her father the orchids I had brought for her mother and to immediately have gone back for a train to Paris. But instead I stayed like a dog with his tail  guarding his butt. I left in tears. It was the last time I saw her.

Before I had left Pittsburgh for Paris I had sent her a painting that stunned her. It was a almost life-size male nude in grattage whose smooth surface of layered paint  has the feel of sculptural relief, and it could only have been seen as an erotic surrogate for the artist. None-the-less, she pinned it to her wall as a silent dance partner.

But she refused to accept my self-assurance after she herself praised the painting as if a surprised discovery. One is not allowed to take praise so easily as if a matter of  fact. Self-denial is more correct. Nor would she accept unconditionally my praise of her ceramic pieces. That was a road she would not face. She had turned her  back on that aspiration only to take a more common goal to earning a living.

However, several nights a week she would go dancing at the African clubs. White men were not her interest. There was a part of me that saw all this clearly-  someone who observed all the confused need in me and the duplicity, probably equally confused, in her baiting that attraction. Yes, I was a fool, and I knew it. But  I also knew it was unleashing the artist – that the pain would provoke the need to form it into paintings..

While all this romantic carnival swept me to its obvious conclusion, my return to Europe coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration  camps. That that also coincided with my own fiftieth birthday had left me with a profound sense of obligation to commemorate that darkness. I admit that at first it  all seems a little twisted to express anything about the Holocaust by way of the “German Girl” series, but in my own way I was fashioning through the personal  idiom an iconic explanation of the attraction of the German Jews towards the elite of Germany. That there was perversity in this sometimes two-way attraction was  part of the fatal brew. I had lived it so to speak once again. I understand why so many could not leave until it was too late….


Two studio views, artist with Lusting for Africa #1 and #2, 1994 (Vincennees, France)


The German Girl Nude barcelona 1995 copy 35

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