Profession as an artist I 1/4: Childhood

Egg or sperm, who is to blame?

Interviews on the question of how one becomes an artist come up relatively often. It is frequently assumed that there was something in childhood that predetermined this path. Yes, in my case that was certainly the case. Some even think it has to do with genius or innate creativity. 

So how does one actually become an artist?

Basically, I think it's like so many things in life: You secretly know it, you've always dreamed of it, and you just have to make the decision to follow that wish. If you don't approach your wish completely unrealistically, almost anything is possible.

In my case, my mother's profession as an art teacher influenced and shaped me the most. My brother Ludger (3.10.1968 - 30.9.2015) and I always had all the materials at our disposal, whether pens, paints, stone, wood, iron, all the tools and materials were always there and gave us the opportunity to translate what we had experienced into visual and crafted things. 

Often it was simply beautiful lessons from my mother, building Stone Age kilns with pupils to fire clay animals, building huts out of wood in the garden or fir houses in the forest. My earliest works exist as a bound book because my mother was doing her state thesis on children's drawing and used mine for that.

I was born in Bonn, lived briefly in Cologne-Porz, grew up most of the time in a small Catholic village in Langerwehe, in the district of Düren, and went to grammar school in Düren, in the upper school of course with an advanced course in art.

Early incentive through competitions

But early on, after every holiday, I painted everything that gave me an occasion. Either in kindergarten or in the first year of school, there was a painting competition called "My most beautiful holiday experience", which I painted with an experience from my holidays in Belgium: One day on the beach, all the beach huts were suddenly covered with thousands and thousands of ladybirds. Back home I painted beach huts with oversized ladybirds du won.

A few years later, a car dealer in Düren announced a painting competition for the car of the future. I must have been in the lower school and won 300 marks for my painting, which I used to buy my longed-for bicycle.

Advanced art course at the Gymnasium

One of the most important experiences was certainly the art-historical introduction to Impressionism and the task of transcribing a photograph impressionistically with oil pastels. For the first time in my young life, I received an A+ or 15 points. A maximum award for a picture of me on a tractor in the Allgäu, which my father had taken. I later gave the picture to my father, who was mostly conspicuous by his absence in my life. But that's another story, which is perhaps important in another context for becoming and being an artist. But now I don't want to talk about Werther's suffering here.

Aspiring artists do too few internships

Through my father, I met the head designer of a carpet factory in Düren, who was also an artist in the Düren and Aachen districts. I did a 14-day internship there. Designing carpet patterns was far from my mind, but nevertheless my designs, drawings you a real carpet pattern design ended up later in my application folders for communication design in Aachen and for teacher training in Siegen. I'm a bit irritated today when I hear those students fail mathematics in the upper school and therefore can't take the Abitur required for academic studies. Besides, the one internship in the sixth form was certainly far too little for this very courageous decision to want to become an artist.

The first camera

I was given my first camera, an Agfa Pocket cassette film camera, for my 4th birthday and can still remember trying it out in the garden at the wedding party of my aunt Weppi and uncle Bernhard. Later I took photos in the open-air game reserve in Tüddern and then I can remember that at the age of 14, with my father's advice, I bought a Pentax Me super with my saved pocket money. In time, I added two more lenses. I photographed with this equipment from 1980 to 2003. Because every now and then one had to be repaired, I ended up owning three bodies and various lenses. The end of this equipment came Visasvis to the Alhambra, when the clamping lever on the second body broke.

A special competition prize for photography and a first photo job

While I was still in the upper school, the carpet manufacturer, the Ankerteppiche company, announced a competition for which I photographed the factory and made drawing suggestions for redesigning it. I remember that one morning our headmaster Dr. Heinz Seeger met me beaming in the long corridor on the ground floor along the classrooms on the way to the teachers' room and told me that I had won a special prize in the competition. That was the first we heard and it spread like wildfire around the school.
Later, I received an order from the managing director, Mr. Heeselhaus, to investigate the company more intensively photographically together with his son. For months we photographed the company in detail from all perspectives with all lenses and filters and together we delivered a complete documentation of the company. Unfortunately, only a few pictures of this portfolio exist because we handed in the negatives at the time.
Time in the art performance course is important, decisive and formative for my further development, even though our art teacher in the LK course, Mr Voigt, didn't give me much of his Beuysian influence. His subject was more art history and for half a year we dealt with architecture. An artistic homework project that I only managed to complete by playing truant and working nights was photographed towers, realistic pictures converted into drawings, which again earned me a top grade.
At this point I knew with a fair degree of certainty that I wanted to do something with art, perhaps more with photography, both of which I could hardly imagine as a profession. My parents were both school teachers and so convinced of the security of being a civil servant that they advised me to become a teacher rather than seek a path in art.

Painting as a mission

The parents of my girlfriend at that time, Karl Heinz and Adelheid Stockheim, gave me a commission to paint for them. I copied a Chagall for them on their garage door, which shone deep blue and colourful in the street for 20 years. I am grateful to this day that this small commission later motivated me again and again to look for new clients, just as an independent artist has to do.

Early companions

During this time between the upper school and the end of my civilian service, I sought further support for my desire to do something in art and found drawing lessons with Walter Dohmen, critical eyes with Jupp and Renate Ernst and, time and again, a wink and encouragement for the desired but uncertain path with Ferdinand Seitz. In the end, however, no one trusted me to apply successfully to an art academy and so, after my civilian service, I took the path of studying to become a teacher, more out of financial necessity than as a profession. I predictably almost dropped out after 3 semesters.