No. On the very next day it became clear to me that the end of his life for me marked the beginning of a new period in which we would continue to be together but in a very different way. I accepted OUBEYs death but I wouldn’t accept that his death also meant the end of his art. Only how and through whom should his art live on and continue to work its magic? To bring an artist still unknown, an artist no longer living whose work was still to be discovered, to the light of posthumous public attention, without putting his pictures up for sale – who apart from me would be prepared to embark on such a venture? I didn’t wait around hoping that someone might turn up who would do it but answered the question myself by starting to get to work. I hadn’t the faintest idea where this first step into the future would lead me.
The first year was a rollercoaster ride of feelings. The shock sat deep. Yet the moments of great pain were followed by ever longer periods of joy as I busied myself with him and his art. And also with all those things we had done and lived through in our time together. But even when you accept the death of someone you love, you still need a great deal of time and strength of mind before you can really understand that the person you love will never again come through that door. In the time together that was given us, OUBEY was the man with whom I spent nearly every day of my life and with whom I was connected by a most intimate symbiosis.
It also helped me a lot that I never raged against fate, never asked why he had to die so young and so tragically. Such questions only lead into a dark pathless void because there never can be an answer to them.
Instead of this I was determined to do what OUBEY would have done if he’d been around to do it – which was to offer people the chance to encounter his art.
I had no idea how this would work out but I was certain that I would find a way. I knew that despite everything we would still share a common future together, at least for as long as I lived. And I was prepared to do everything within my power bring his art to the world and make people all over the world thrill to his art.
Because I was absolutely certain that an encounter with his art would be a deeply rewarding experience for people all over the world, one that would and give them great pleasure as well as some valuable new insights. So I began to travel, taking his pictures to people all over the world. It was an amazing voyage of discovery – both for the people who encountered OUBEYs paintings and for myself too. And it is far from over.
I would be very happy to have you travel with me on this very special journey – in my free e-book ‘MINDKISS. Following OUBEYs Tracks’.
Popularity and your name written large in glittering lights is a dream many artists dream about, as long as they’re unknown and relatively unsuccessful. Yet if one of them should become a superstar, or even achieve iconic status, then they often find that such popularity becomes a burden, as it makes it practically impossible for them to lead a “normal” private life, constantly besieged as they are by hysterical fans and hounded by raving paparazzi. Well, this is just the price of fame, you might think, the price to be paid for living a life of luxury with no other worries.
But this isn’t my view. Many artists are driven by what the media and their fans expect of them. How do you deal with such expectations and still remain human? How can you steer and control them or, even more difficult, how can you ignore them and continue calm, collected and free to pursue your own way? Such visions of life are beyond the grasp of many artists and they fail in their attempts to achieve them – think of stars like Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, groomed from earliest childhood to be a performing figure on a stage. They were both mega-famous, objects of boundless adulation now enshrined in the collective memory of people across the whole world. Yet were they truly happy during their lives?
Happiness might be possible in the limelight of the stage or under the spotlights of the movie set. After, all these are the privileged places of art where the division of roles is clear. Yet what happens when artists leave these bunkers and are left to their own devices? Or when they can (no longer) meet the expectations of the masses?
Many are broken by this as success is no meal ticket for finding human happiness. When success means achieving a certain level of fame, the price to pay is very high indeed.
For artists, art, the stage and the studio are first and foremost home ground, places where they profoundly belong. But also places they can escape to. Places where they can express just what they are. Places where they can be sure that in the process of its creation art is invulnerable. Artists only become vulnerable when they turn to the public and expose their works.
Good art reveals our most hidden feeling and thus is always deeply personal. This is why artistic creation causes anxiety and costs much energy. But when the general public comes into play, it tries to turn the persons behind the work into something they might well not be.
Some artists are broken by this, others develop resilience. Or they are securely embedded in a protective family environment – like a storm-proof boat steering them across the choppy waters of public attention and publicity.
My absolute number one favourite artist – and also as an unyielding strong-willed personality – was always and still is Bob Dylan. I’ve been going to his concerts for years. In 1966 when he first accompanied his latest composition “Like a Rolling Stone” with electric guitar and organ on stage, he was roundly booed and vilified as a “traitor” by his fans who only saw in him the folk singer and political rebel. For him, this new sound was a discovery and a broadening of the possibilities of his art yet these were perspectives for which his self-righteous (blinkered??) fans had nothing but contempt. What they wanted was for him to conform to the image they had made of him, and they made it very clear that Bob Dylan as an artist and Bob Dylan as a man wasn’t of the slightest interest to them.
Only Dylan himself can know what he felt at that time. Yet it’s now common knowledge that he remained impervious to such blatant disapproval and has continued in his own dogged way to do only what he thinks is good and right – even “against all odd”. In his concerts, he’ll change his songs just as he feels right, like singing “Blowin´ in the Wind” in waltz rhythm if the mood takes him. The first time I saw him perform, I couldn’t instantly recognise a single one of the songs he was singing. I’ve never experienced anything similar before or since with any other artist. Yet astonishingly, this lack of instant recognition didn’t lead to any disappointment on the part of the audience. On the contrary, he soon had the whole arena firmly in his grasp, following the sound and the rhythms with everyone – myself included – having a marvellous unforgettable evening.
What Bob Dylan wants to make known of himself is expressed in his lyrics and his music. Interviews with him are pretty thin on the ground. To me, this all seems extraordinarily consistent on his part, strong and honest and – with its inevitable downsides – also highly successful. Let’s just call it serendipity. The man and the artist are at unity, a fact that the fans have long accepted. He’s made his own way, proven his own point and they respect him for it and respect his personality too.
Their attitude mirrors my own feeling about people in general – and about my relationship with OUBEY.
Famous or not – I always see the person in the artist.
This is why I never found it difficult to accept OUBEY just as he was. He too was a brilliant artist with a strong and resolute character, a man who always strode out on his own way. He needed a great deal of free space for his thoughts and his work just as he needed the loving support of another being – both of which I gave to him gladly.
I love the artist and honour him, yet at the same time I always see a man who deserved empathy and respect, a man whose freedom would have been limited by pushy overbearing attempts to gain his intimacy. A man who didn’t take kindly to strangers trying to gatecrash his life. This makes it all the more wonderful that OUBEY actually invited me into his life and let me share in his work.
“Marilyn Monroe – The Woman behind the Icon”, exhibition Historisches Museum der Pfalz in Speyer.
Photo credit: wikimedia/creative commons
You might think that this question is hypothetical? Not at all. Because the “somebody you don’t know” was me at the beginning of the MINDKISS Project.
And the end result of emails of this type that I sent out is extraordinary: a set of Encounters with OUBEY.
The idea of the “Encounters“ goes like this: someone views a painting by OUBEY they’ve never seen before and talks about the thoughts and feelings this painting inspires in them – in front of a running camera. Nobody knows which picture they’re going to see. And the painting remains covered until that camera starts to run. It’s a totally new form of spontaneous interaction between painting and viewer – fresh, unconstrained and original.
I am constantly amazed and thrilled by the sheer richness of the thoughts, insights and discoveries that have emerged from the 25 Encounters with OUBEYs paintings. To give just one example, when a palaeontologist of the calibre of Professor Friedemann Schrenk of the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt remarks that a whole 7 million years of human evolutionary history is contained in the painting he is viewing, this is a truly astonishing statement that neither I nor probably anyone else could have made. , It’s a unique and truly brilliant insight.
When I first took up the Encounters I fully realised that with its many long-distance journeys to people all over the world this was going to be a huge, time-consuming and very expensive project – yet at the same time one that also offered marvellous one-of-a-kind opportunities for OUBEYs art and for my own life.
For the Encounters are not just about other people viewing one of OUBEYS paintings, for me they are also always fascinating encounters with these interesting people. I got to know scientists and researchers, musicians, dancers and extreme athletes and through them became familiar with quite new perspectives on OUBEYs art. In the shortest time, my life became enriched by many new dimensions.
You can find out what they are and how I first hit on the idea for the MINDKISS Project in my new e-book MINDKISS: Following OUBEYs Tracks. Download it, it’s for free.
Another brilliant coup by the artist Banksy in which he succeeds yet again in laying bare the absurd mechanisms of the commercial art market for all to see. To fully appreciate this you have to know that Banksy is a street artist who attaches great importance to the impact that his graffiti and art performances have yet who refuses to take part in the speculative games of the art market. His independence is much more important to him than fame and riches.
So it’s even more astonishing that his Girl with Balloon has now been put up for sale at Sotheby´s auction house and at the very moment that the picture was bought by the highest bidder it self-destructed and so became worthless. But this is exactly where Banksy shows himself to be such a brilliant debunker – because in such a system is a shredded picture necessarily a worthless picture? This case shows that the very contrary is true – it increases, even substantially increases, in value. And so the shredded picture becomes a kind of magnifying glass through which we can view the absurdities of the commercial art market close-up and as they happen.
As an artist as soon as you engage in this speculative art market system, you can hardly avoid becoming entangled in its coils, and run the danger of gradually exchanging your inner freedom for money. This is the reason why I don’t sell OUBEYs pictures. They were created in the greatest possible spiritual freedom. And I wish to conserve this freedom for them and also for myself in what I do. They don’t need to have any material value put on them in order to assert their value as works of art. Naturally, the position taken by Banksy and the intelligent consequences of his actions are a deep source of pleasure for me. He too has set his sights not on sales but on impact and public perception.
When he does sell, the transaction becomes enveloped in a kind of aurora of enlightenment. Take, for instance the time when an anonymous seller at a stand in New York’s Central Park sold passers-by original Banksy works for 60 dollars. Whoever bought a picture by an unknown artist from this stall did so not because they were buying a “Banksy with expectations of a rapid increase in its value” but because they were buying a picture they liked. Banksy taped this action and published the video – much to the chagrin of all art dealers who had missed this unique opportunity to make a killing. Unquestionably, they would have dearly loved to resell these works at a vast profit.
It would even seem that Banksy had given away his Girl with Ballon with the proviso that the receiver would never put it up for sale. A test balloon to show how strong the counterforces need to be to withstand the blandishments of the art market. Counterforces such as “respect for the wishes of the artist”; “appreciation of the mark of trust shown in bestowing this gift”; or simply “love of art”.
Apparently such forces were not as strong as the magnetic attraction of the art market on which the picture became yet another item for auction.
Despite the very different character of his work – in their free spirit, their need for autonomy and the marked distance they keep from the art market, OUBEY and Banksy are very similar. Both of them have resisted the powerful attraction of the art world. OUBEY mainly did this to paint the pictures that sprang up in his head without being in the slightest influenced by expectations from the outside. Banksy does it so that his works might debunk, demystify, and criticise but also bring his art to that place where he thinks it truly belongs: among people who cannot afford expensive art.
Whoever believes that the higher value of Girl with Balloon after the picture self-destructed means that Banksy’s action has missed the mark or even achieved the contrary effect, is quite wrong.
Because it’s precisely this increase in value that shows just how strong the power of speculation is, and that the spotlight here is not fixed on art. Rather it’s the market that annexes art just as it pleases. Even when that art is destroyed.
Banksy´s coup was perfect. In its unique way it is a clear demonstration of how the market functions, how it twists and turns, adapts to circumstances and eventually triumphs. Whether you find this good or bad is another question. But it’s clear that this is how it is. The goal which was to reveal this has been achieved. The whole world is talking about this stunt and it won’t be forgotten so quickly.
For animals of the first generation, brought in from the wild to one of this world’s zoos, the loss of their liberty must surely have been a dreadful thing to bear. Yet even animals of the second and third generations who were born in zoos still carry within them this gene of liberty.
The gene of liberty is not exclusive to wild animals. OUBEYs art too, in a certain manner, also bears its imprint.
OUBEYs pictures are expressions of his indomitable free spirit. Unimpressed and unmoved by the rules of the art market, he only ever did what seemed important to him and right so that in a figurative sense you can say that this free spirit lives on in his paintings. And when I was wondering what would be the best way bring OUBEYs paintings to public attention after his early death, one thing became evident very quickly – that they had no place in the circus of the art world. Their proper place was much more “out in the wild” where they could enjoy the kind of freedom that was their birth right and display themselves in public free of and unrestrained by all the common modes of perception. This is why I brought the paintings to settings where art is not usually found – like an international management conference.
The annual conference of the Peter Drucker Society in Vienna examines social and economic issues of management. Art is not usually high on its agenda. Yet when the president of the Society heard of my ENCOUNTER Tour, he suggested that OUBEYs art should be shown at the next conference focussed on “Managing Complexity” – in a context lightyears away from any museum, and stripped of any kind of explanation or even explicit reference to the paintings. In other words, a context where they could be discovered and explored in a kind of natural “out in the wild” habitat. The topic chosen for the conference was a happy chance because “complexity” is of central importance to OUBEYs art. I gladly accepted his offer. And so in November 2013 two of his paintings were suspended in the space between two giant classical pillars while four other paintings found their place in a narrow corridor on the aluminium doors of cloakroom lockers. What do you think happened?
At first all the people at the conference were largely involved in discussing the concerns that had led them to the conference in the first place. However, the conference covered two and a half days and, gradually, without any prompting, more and more people appeared in the corridor where the pictures were hung to look at them, put on the headphones and watched the Encounter Videos. Even though no effort was made to attract visitors, the level of interest steadily rose – as did the readiness to encounter a previously unknown painting in front of running cameras. Such Open Encounters are an integral part of each stopover of the Global Encounter Tour and are especially fascinating. By the end of the conference in Vienna there was such a queue of people waiting to take part in an Open Encounter that we had to organise an extra shift. Who knows what would have happened on a third day …
This extraordinary opening was also an opportunity for me to see what a strong appeal OUBEYs art held for these people. This really impressed me and also reassured me that my decision to show his art “out in the wild” had been the correct one. Because even if museums do play a major role in ensuring the conservation and accessibility of art and display art in optimal settings, it’s still a marvellous opportunity to experience art finally freed of this context in the setting of a cloakroom corridor where you can view it close-up and directly and form your own personal opinion.
So when I was faced with the task of bringing his hitherto unknown legacy into the light of public attention, I was faced with rather a sticky situation because on the one hand I certainly didn’t want to fall into the role of becoming the one who – because of having some privileged access to his art – awakening the impression that I held the right keys to its interpretation. Yet on the other hand, naturally, I wanted to act in a way that OUBEY would have approved of and I wanted to remain faithful to his spirit. In short, I wasn’t the slightest interested in furnishing explanations. What did keenly interest me though was how I could succeed in placing his pictures in a high-quality process of discovery from a manifold variety of alluring perspectives. Would the opinions held by an art expert or another artist be conducive to such a process?
My considered response to this question is NO! What I did do was to travel with his paintings to meet people whose professional lives were concerned with dealing with much the same themes and issues as OUBEY: astronomers, astrophysicists, biologists, mathematicians, quantum and complexity researchers, musicians, philosophers, and composers. Throughout his life OUBEY had always engaged with the findings of these disciplines on a very high level. And as these encounters progressed I came to realize how right I had been in my decision to take this particular course.
“I have to warn you. I know absolutely nothing about art” – this was often the first thing people said as they prepared themselves to encounter an unknown work of OUBEYs in front of a running camera. And in each and every case my honest answer was always the same, “That’s great. This is exactly the reason why I’m with you here today with this painting.”
“The sense of immediacy is the decisive factor for my paintings“ OUBEY once said. Immediacy springs from the direct unfiltered emotional encounter between the painting and its viewer. This is exactly the hallmark of the “Encounters“ with OUBEY, that can be seen online as a video documentary. They show an exceptionally broad and enormously variegated spectrum of insightful and spontaneous resonance – free of any of the claims and pretensions of art expertise.
When we talk about art, we mainly think of painting. However, let’s think about music, for instance, and the myriad possibilities people now have of listening to music whenever they want and as often as they want. This doesn’t work with painting. I can certainly look at paintings in my home or online or as illustrations in a book on art – yet it’s pretty difficult for me to do so whilst riding a bike or walking or taking part in some other activity, all of which are situations where it’s perfectly possible to listen to music.
Music reaches people in a much more direct and simple way than any other form of art. This doesn’t just apply to music delivered by media: live concerts have their own particular quality and emotional dynamics which are worlds apart from those of an art exhibition. Yet the music business too naturally has the filter function of expertise which is similar to the art expertise of art experts in galleries or on the art market.
Even so, ever since people have been able to post their own musical presentations online on YouTube, a type of freedom has been established, a type of democratization that was unknown just a few years back. Everybody can upload, everybody can download. Views, likes, shares and downloads are expressions of immediate reactions to things heard or seen by a broad worldwide audience.
Obviously you could now object that all this is nothing more than just “the tastes of the masses”. Yet you might do well to remind yourself that behind every single one of these reactions stands an individual who likes or doesn’t like what they hear or see. This is indeed not at all easy to transfer over to painting. Yet the experiences I have made so far in using the internet to broadcast OUBEYs art have only strengthened me in my resolve to continue using this exceptional and innovative conduit and to gradually broaden the resonance space thus created.
Sure, it’s something fine and important when art experts voice their opinion on works of art. Yet it’s equally fine and important that you first form your own opinion. This makes it all the more interesting when you subsequently listen to what the experts have to say and can compare their opinion with your own. And often enough, we shouldn’t forget, different experts can have wildly differing opinions on the same art work.
This is why I find it good that people going to museums first take the time and freedom to contemplate the exhibits and then ask themselves “What kind of thoughts and feelings does this picture trigger in me? What do I personally read and see in this picture?” Because no matter what kind of intellectual considerations may play a role in such a process, it’s first and foremost always an emotional reaction that connects us to a work of art.
At the same time our society adheres to the view that whatever carries a high price tag must be intrinsically valuable. Otherwise why would so many people find that an expensive pair of jeans must be much better than a cheaper pair? Often enough it’s just the brand value of a product that determines the price difference between goods of the same material value.
The evaluation of companies on the stock exchange is a more complicated matter. Based on suppositions about the future development of a company’s share value, it’s the psychology of investor behaviour that decides which company’s shares are to be bought or sold. From the standpoint of such speculative profit expectations, questions as to whether a company operates solidly and sustainably, and makes clever investment in its future – and thus represents genuine value – by no means always play the decisive role.
But how does the relationship between value and price play out when it comes to art? Here we generally find a combination of the two mechanisms. If an artist and his work have achieved the same level of name recognition as a leading brand, the same work that once went for a modest sum will now fetch an astronomical price – often in hopes that the value of this artist’s work will continue to rocket on the art market. Art as investment.
In particular for young unknown artists, the predictions made by a gallery owner or art dealer about the expected long-term development of the value of their work for prospective buyers can be of existential importance. This is where we find the same psychology of betting at work as we find in investors. Nobody knows for sure whether things will turn out exactly as the experts say.
Thanks to OUBEY I came to realize that art which has the extraordinary good fortune to be created in complete freedom from the market can develop its own very rare and very special quality. And when art that has been created in this way is not up for sale and thus comes with no price tag attached, then this freedom can also be transferred to the beholder and endow the encounter with a quality as exceptional and rare as that which imbued the process of its creation.
Such freedom can also be seen as a particular kind of luxury. The case of the marvellous painter Vincent van Gogh, however, shows that this supposed luxury of free creation can come at the cost of serious hardship and deprivation. As he hardly sold a single painting during his lifetime, he was totally reliant on the financial support of his brother for his very existence. Yet from such involuntary freedom he painted pictures of stupendous power in a style as revolutionary as it was unique. Today the same paintings that nobody wanted 120 years ago reach record prices at auctions. Yet the true intrinsic value of these paintings was exactly the same at the time of their creation as it is today. It is simply there – independently of any price.
If price cannot set the value of a work of art then the way is open for another non-material form of appreciation that comes from within. Possession is no longer the point of the exercise but rather pure discovery and pleasure. This is why I will never sell OUBEYs paintings even though I am often pressed to do so. I have freed myself of the rating system of the commercial art market.
The value of OUBEYs art is revealed to me in the resonance his paintings evoke in people when – free of all forms of commercial speculation – I place them in an open-ended process of discovery through others. This is just as experimental as it is deeply satisfying. People tell me that looking at certain pictures makes them happy. This is not something that can be computed in terms of money. It’s personal and it’s life-enhancing.
Yet for a child play always has its very serious side. Because in play children are working through and shaping their own experience of reality by living out their phantasies and their ideas. This is motivated by pleasure and is always of their own free will. Nobody can force them to do it.
Some people succeed in carrying these qualities through into their adult lives or they relearn them as we can see in the case of Picasso to whom regaining a child’s freedom, spontaneity and carefreeness in his artistic work was of such importance. Because art which is born in freedom has its own particular and special quality and high value. For me this is precisely the vital insight that Picasso‘s remark yields.
Yet the art market follows other rules. Like every other market it is geared to a purpose and subscribes to the rules of business – and the world of business is a world of adults. Artists want to secure their existence, dealers want to make a good deal. Artists should deliver sellable works so that money can be made.
Yet how can an artist retain his or her inner freedom when the works they produce are tailored to the market demand? There’s no universal answer to this question. Each artist must decide for him or herself when answering it.
OUBEY gave his own version of the answer after his first and highly successful commercial exhibition by withdrawing completely from the public eye for twelve years. “I’m glad that I did it and I’m very pleased with its success. Only if I continue this way, I’m going to lose the spring of my art”, he said to me a few days after the exhibition opened. And then he took the freedom that he needed to continue to draw from the purpose-free gushing spring of his own creative energy. He followed the power of his inner strength. He could not and would not let himself be influenced by what the market expected.
And thus in seclusion a major body of work was created which is now coming to the light of day – with one single purpose which is to make it accessible to people all over the world.
Now perhaps you might find this some exotic artist’s story that has little to do with your own life. But that’s not what I think. I believe that it always does each and every one of us good to do something that is not linked to some immediate or material purpose. It does us good when we now and then shake off all thought of purpose and do something only because it fills us with pleasure and inspires us – quite independently of what others might think about us.
The over 30,000 year old drawings on the walls of the cave at Chauvet in the south of France that were discovered about 25 years ago and thankfully revealed to us by Werner Herzog in his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams awaken in spectators a thrilling feeling of immediacy despite the huge gulf of time that separates us from the moment of their creation. It’s as though we were pitched at a dizzying height traversing huge gorges of time on a spiritual rope bridge, as though the limits of time were abolished in the moment of viewing.
These prehistoric wall paintingss stand for themselves. In this sense they are similar to OUBEYs art and are also related to it in another sense in a highly individual way. They are hidden treasures that have remained untouched and unseen for a certain period of time. Their existence in concealment confers on them a freedom of a kind that can scarcely be found today. This freedom is implicit in them and transfers to us when we view them. We can discover them, enjoy them and let them work on us in a rare kind of pure immediacy.