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Zeitdokumente - Seite 2

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Juxtapoz
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This article was published in the Art Nadir Juxtapoz in spring 1996 written by Carlo Mc Cormick

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  Mati Klarwein - Bitches Brew

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When the visually dense, culturally complex and hypnotically swirling tapestry of human experience that is Mati Klarwein's artistic cosmology first reached international audience, as the cover art for such classic records as Santana's ABRAXAS and Miles Davis' BITCHES BREW, it was so startingly unlike anything people had seen, few could have deciphered the full confluence of information or imagined the remarkable life they coalesce.
 

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Mati in the sixties
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Mati in the sixties

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Stella, Hendrix and Mati
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Stella, Hendrix and Mati

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Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1932, the fantastic journey that brought Mati to his home and great love, Majorca, is perhaps even more astounding and richly exotic than his art. Displaced by the ourbrake of World War II, he fled with his parents to the Middle East when he was two years old. It was the first of a lifetime of moves that opened up his inquisitive and adventurous spirit to a kind of collective global humanism.
 
A citizen of the world, Klarwein has spiritually and creatively connected with a myriad of seemingly incompatible cultures. Much like the sweeping multiculturalism of his art, his life is characterized by the same expatriate collocation of simultaneous immersion.
 
Growing up in what was then Palestine, political and social circumstances determined from a very early age that he would experience a full inventory of human costums and beliefs as an outsider perpetually distanced from the intellectual complacency of belonging. Making a pilgrimage to visit this indiosyncratic visionary at his home in Majorca this past summer, he told us,
 
"I grew up with three cultures - Christianity, Judaism and Muslim - three different ages side by side, with very different mentalities, attitudes, characteristics and rituals."
 
Nearly a half century later, it is not merely the shadowy alleys of the old Arab quater or "the joyful innocence, freedom and carefree humor of American films" Mati remembers, but also how his family's hatred of orthodoxy seperated him from his community.
 
"I was the only one in class who was not circumcised", he recalls, "so I was a minority of one at an age when you want to be part of the crowd." He did nor forget Palestine's "chauvinism, nationalism, youth movement, marching and uniforms that weren't too different from the Nazism we'd fled."
 
When hatred and intolerance fractured the world into extremes, Mati, as neither Jew or gentile, came to be an exile of absolutes, a hybrid of multibles. With the ensuing war, Mati and his mother fled to Paris in 1948, becoming in essence the first generation od Palestinian refugees.
 
"My mother tricked me into going to Paris because she had friends there. I wanted to go to Hollywood to be a movie director, so she told me we'd just stay there for a little while and then go to America."

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Brigitte Bardot and Mati
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Brigitte Bardot and Mati
in Saint Tropez

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Considering this wild imagination, one cannot help but feel the film medium's loss that he never fulfilled this dream, but with the entry into the Paris art secenes of the '50s, where he studied with Fernand Léger, Klarwein embarked on a unique iconoclasic made of self-expression. It was Léger who introduced Mato to the Film "Un Chien Andalou", and the art od Salvador Dali, which would be an indelible influence on his own work. Years later, he would form a personal friendship with the flamboyant showman of Surealism, but even bevore he'd heard of Dali, there was an kinship between them predicated on the conjunction of the transgressive and transcendent in both their work.
  It was in &quto;Bepop and Existentialist" Paris, and his subsequent artistic base in the glamorous and manied social scene of St. Tropez, where Klarwein struck up numerous laisons with the rich and famous (among them Brigitte Bardot), learning the difficult skills of survival and fun.
 
"I only give part of my time to Work. I give equal time to play. I don't consider myself a serious artist", Klarwein explains. "I was more into a playboy, playground scene, and selling my art on the side." As he recounts a life of bohemian frivolities and jet set pleasures, one gets the idea that the accumulation of experience that is so central to the pan-cultural scope of his paintings is also inherent to his process of finding an audience of patrons. "I never had any money from anywhere. I started making my own living when I was twenty-one, so I had to find a balance between creative liberty and merchandising."
 
With a reputation as a bon viant and ladies' man, our fears of encountering a dissolute degenerate proved unfounded; he says he learned that "after having wild adventures all over the world, the only adventure left was the creative, mental adventure."
 
If the exile and international stimulus of Klarwein's youth opened his mind to certain possibilities and sensibilities it was in St. Tropez where he met two individuals who would radically change his life. The most celebrated of theses is his association with the prominent Viennese visionary Ernst Fuchs. It was Fuch, another wandering half-Jew starving romantic, with a penchant for the sureal and erotic, who persuaded him to abandon oil painting in favor of the far more facile and seductively arcane medium of tempera.

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Young Mati at work
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Young Mati at work

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"I tried one painting and sold it immediately", which was proof enough for a then struggling Klarwein, "I used that technique from then on." The other fortuitous relationship from that time was with a woman who was considerably wealthier and older than himself who became his lover, patron and travelling companion for seven years, taking him first on a tour of Europe, where he learned immensely from the works of the Italien Renaissance and the Flemish masters, and then to more exotic and remote locals of the East and beyond.
 
Visiting or living in a different times Europe, America, India, Tibet, Turkey, Bali, North Africa and Cuba, are not faded memories and momentos in a tourist scrapbook, but the vital visual material that remains vibrantly alive in the Byzantine-baroque exoticism and underlying universality of his paintings.

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Artist n' Model
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Artist n' Model 1957

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It is the breadth and depth of Mati Klarwein's multicultural vision where the real content and spirit resides. For him, "it's very actual and necessary. If you want to continue life on Earth, there has to be some collaboration between the cultures." This inclusivity and ability to fuse the disparate and alien drew the attention of the globally-conscious hipster community of the '60s, with Jackie Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Timothy Leary, Ornette Coleman and Ravi Shankar among his fans and friends. Ironically, this popularity accured at a time when American artists were being consecrated as the dominant voice of culture.
 
With the recent growing interest in cross-cultural experience, his oeuvre not only sustains a tremendous appel, it suggests an extremely relevant alternative view to the regional and nationalist religio-political hatred and intolerance currently tearing apart the world's social fabric.

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Mati at work
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Mati at work in summer 2000
Foto: Michael Krähmer

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With the paintings of his youth to much an abundant personal history of the times, places, characters and loves of his life, the singular focus his art has maintained in the decades since he settled in Majorca is perhaps problematic for many of his most ardent fans. For an alchemist of the universal and global to set his vision so determinately on the regional as particularly shocking. But if the erotic glory of the female form has been Klarwein's first and foremost love, he admits that Majorca, or more accurately the Mediterranean, has been an "exaggerated love, an obsession, a passion that can evoke in me such strong emotions." Rather than an overflowing orgy of humanity enmeshed in spiritual and physical intercourse, Klarwein's landscapes divine in the simplicity of nature the same pictorial excess and infinite harmony. Be it a tee, a rock, a wave or just a transistory play of light he displays "a great need for alot of detail," explaing that, "I like my visual field to be very crowded, I get very nervous in empty spaces." When asked about why he traded in the raptures of the flesh for those of the land, he confessed with a mischievous smile, "Well, you grow up."
 
Once immersed in Mati's Majorca, you feel the same pervasive sensuality in the surfaces, textures, lines and shapes. Rather than relying on narrative (light now dictates the emotive and formal content) and trying to cram the whole world in a single painting, his work is now a meditation on the private and specific, "on the mood of it," Klarwein asserts. "It's been more introspective and concerned about the craft of painting. Bevore I was just illustrating my fantasies, now I'm painting."
 

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