• Germany's news in English

Surviving Berlin's art jungle

Exberliner · 14 Oct 2009, 15:28

Published: 14 Oct 2009 15:28 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The Nomadic Buffalo

Berlin has a very appealing, almost Mediterranean flair: a mesmerizing current that catches the casual jellyfish who thrive on philosophizing bar culture. But the keener ones will use its power to push toward more productive waters.“I am, above all, a copyist. And I find joy in watching other people watch me work,” says Christiane Jessen-Richardsen. Five years ago, after a life of copywriting and catering, the Berlin-based ‘‘street painter’’ (as she calls herself) decided to turn her attentions to the surprisingly lucrative niche-discipline of sidewalk art. Jessen-Richardsen says she loves working out in the open, using the pavement as her canvas. A large chalk drawing takes her up to five days, and is done either on commission or as a street ‘begging job.’

For someone who claims that she doesn’t know a thing about the art world, she makes a remarkably good living off her - in the eyes of those higher up in the art world food chain – ‘questionable’ artwork. A garish portrait of Mozart or a cheesy Mexican landscape works just as well in the Cologne Cathedral square as in Rome or Verona (she regularly criss-crosses the north of Italy with her chalk box under her arm). “But Berlin is awful,” she says, disgruntled from another unsuccessful stint at the Brandenburg Gate. “The main problem with this city is that it has no centre, and it’s so awfully big that people don’t even walk past the same place twice - so they can’t appreciate what you’re doing and say ‘Hey, your work is still in progress!’”

As well as squeezing juice out of organized jobs for festivals across Germany, she is ready to take the next step. It’s a new style that turned the 2D street art world upside down. “I would say that nowadays, about 60 percent of sidewalk art is 3D, so I was forced to learn it,” she says. “I really don’t like it: 3D provokes the effect of surprise, even though the drawing itself might be unspectacular.”

When her nomadic days are over, Jessen-Richardsen will change direction, and start drawing portraits of animals with their owners. She points out at a framed picture of a buffalo hanging on her wall: it’s of a shamanic Krafttier, an animal that reflects the soul of the person being painted. It is, indeed, a zoo out there.

The Networking Spider

The times of the cavemen are not too distant: the art world is a male-dominated place. “Women often don’t know how to place themselves on the market,” says Hannah Kruse, coordinator of Goldrausch, a grant program for female artists. Two thirds of all art students are female, but the hatchlings in the highest-placed eagle nests are still testosterone-heavy. So Petra (not her real name) decided to take these matters into her own hands.

The 28-year-old UdK student plans to bushwhack a path of her own… even before graduating. Backed up by her best asset - womanhood - she has entered the social circles of art connoisseurs: collectors are, after all, where the money is, and if you must sell yourself, it’s best to bypass the pimp. Petra’s future already looks bright. She has sold a couple of paintings: €900 is, she says, what people will pay for a square meter of her canvasses. And when one gay couple who had bought a 'piece of her' invited her over to dinner, Petra dressed up - anxiously hoping to cut a fine figure, find the right smart things to say at the dinner table and generally play the part of the young, up-and-coming artist so well that her paintings would emit the right whiff of must-have sexiness….

The Night Hawk

When the sun sets, nocturnal species go about their diverse wanderings. Berlin’s vibrant, excessive nightlife is the sporting ground of queer folk and dubious sugar daddies. Californian Stevie Hanley’s story sounds surprisingly familiar: “I met this gay filmmaker from Holland in Castro one day. When I told him what I was up to and my plans to move to New York, he advised me to move to Berlin instead.”

The 25-year-old Berkeley Wunderkind majored in “Shame Studies”, as he defines it, just as he was discovering his artistic skills. “My parents were profoundly religious in a twisted way. They attempted to change my homosexual views by putting me in obscure Mormon re-education programs.”

Hanley has, however, grown more confident than many of his sexual contemporaries, and now aims his artistic arrows at religious and gender issues. “I tend to secularise religious thought, but in Berlin, they think you’re stupid if you are serious about holy matters.” Two and a half years ago, Hanley hit the Berlin gay scene, working at the Tuntenhaus and curating at the Schwules Museum. There, he met the owner of Rote Lotte, where his paintings are now sold -but they still don’t make him money enough for food and lodging, so a Schöneberg escort service keeps him out of the clutches of poverty. “My work is an inspiration for my art,” he points out with a sweet, contagious smile. “And I provide a sort of therapy for these lonely gay men who are ultimately seeking communication.” As he sits in his Neukölln studio, a big unfinished canvas of trees rises up behind him: these represent the Holy Spirit, and are intended to provoke questions about the fragility of the human soul. And, as twilight darkens the roofs of Sonnenallee, Hanley himself jumps up, ready for the next artistic challenge. You can almost hear his competitors howling with dismay.

Stevie Hanley‘s work is in The Devil Is A Loser And He‘s My Bitch at Galerie Studio St. (Sanderstr. 26, Neukölln, U-Bhf Schönleinstr.,Tel 0177 3686 343, Tue, Sun, 16-19, Fri-Sat 19-24) until Oct 23.

Story continues below…

The Busy Beaver

All he ever wanted was to paint. Among the dynamic demands of a non-stop ‘2.0’ society, Edward B. Gordon, a 43-year-old native of Hannover, has discovered a working pattern that allows him to do what he loves most. Gordon’s parents are both artists: “Painting was something that ran in the family.” After a foray into acting, he gave in to his vocation: he lived off the rarely-sold piece, occasional commission work and his wits, until one day he thought up a gimmick that allowed him to do nothing but art, all the time.

For the past three years, Gordon has painted a work inspired by the streets of Berlin every single day. He then puts a picture of it up on his blog and sells it within 24 hours to the highest bidder - €150 is the minimum price. It’s not a bad idea: after all, even the hippest white-walled Mitte galleries sell almost all their art online. Gordon has managed to do what so many Berliners only dream of: he lives off his art – and nothing else. No nightshifts in bars; no language teaching; no tedious shifts at museums. “Of course, there’s the pressure of finishing a painting every single day,“ he says, “but I like the discipline it takes.” Gordon has found his niche: he has sold nearly all of the more than 1000 paintings he has produced - some for €151, some for as much €1700. And this year, major newspapers like the FAZ used some of his pictures to illustrate their stories. For this artist, it’s about staying in motion:physically and virtually.

Click here for more from Berlin's leading monthly magazine in English.

Related links:

Exberliner (editor@exberliner.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd