How's your (Art Fair) German?


Did you learn German at school? Or maybe it was French, Italian, Spanish...?

Now that I live in Europe, I wish I had paid more attention in class and daydreamed less. I learned German in high school for three years (in theory) but really only concentrated for one year. The rest I totally wasted, as you do when you are fourteen and the teacher is not really a proper German teacher and she has been dumped with a year 9 German class to fill out the rest of her timetable.

I now find myself badly needing that German I neglected way back...

I am preparing to go to Cologne, Germany, in late April to present my work at the Kölner-Liste Art Fair but hardly speak a word of the language.

Panic stations. I have been told not to worry, by the artist friend that I am exhibiting with. She has shown in Berlin recently and says that 'everyone' speaks English. I still find it uncomfortable to assume that people in their own country will speak another language, and feel I need to get a grip on at least some German basics.

So with the idea of doing a crash course in German, I load Duolingo onto my iPad.

I get started with class 1.01, as you do, and race through the lessons as my old brain archives get dusted off. I get to say hello and goodbye. Ha, that was easy. So moving ahead, I get to phrases such as Schockolade ist lecker (chocolate is tasty) or das Kinder essen die Nudeln (the children eat noodles). Perhaps these are not going to be hugely helpful at the art fair?

I discover that words like like das Buch (book), der Apfel (apple) die Schule (school) das Brot (bread), die Kartoffel (potato) are still somewhere there in my brain, but how am I going to incorporate them into my art conversation with prospective customers? There are a couple of apples depicted in my paintings, so perhaps I could capitalise on this and point them out to my clients exclaiming 'Der Apfel!' in my best German. Yeah, sure.

Work in progress for Cologne, 40x40 cm, oil on wood panel.

Work in progress for Cologne, 40x40 cm, oil on wood panel.

Best I start looking online for some art vocabulary in German.

I find a website with pictures of an art studio and everything labelled in German, which is a step in the right direction. But some of the words are killers! How will I ever remember these?

An exhibition is die Austellung. But which syllable do you put emphasise? A stretched canvas is die Leinwand (plural Leinwände). Lights are Scheinwerferlichter.

Better move on to phrases. I am surprised to find something that looks relevant. Maybe I have hit art fair gold...

Sprechen dich diese Gemälde an? (Do these paintings appeal to you?) Hmmm, perhaps not the best conversation starter...

Ich habe den Nachmittag damit verbracht, ein Bild zu malen. (I spent the afternoon painting a picture!) Haha, I wish!!!

Das Gemälde is den Preis, den Sie verlangen, nicht wert. (The painting is not worth the price you are asking!) Just as well there is no way I will ever understand this one, so can smile and be ignorant.

So, where does this leave me. The Duolingo lessons are gradually dropping by the wayside. I am getting email reminders that I have missed my daily goals and am falling behind. Just want I want to hear. How about a bit of encouragement to get me restarted?

So instead I am in my studio painting long hours, preparing my best new work for the fair.

For the first time in a decade I am making some small scale pieces (oil on wood panel), and am feeling surprisingly happy with the process and results. I have realised that working on either a very small or very large scale suits me, and is in harmony with the ideas behind the paintings. It's the mid-size where I run into problems.  'Dishwasher' size is my most dreaded format. I try to make it work, and stretch a 60x80 cm canvas as a test. I draw the image onto it, but it just looks wrong and I scrap it almost immediately. The woman needs to be either way under life size or much larger than life. The only solution is to crop the image to maintain the scale, so we will see...

As for showing in Cologne (minus any significant skills in the German language) I am hoping that my pictures and smiling face will speak the thousand German words that will NOT be coming out of my mouth.

On the easel, new works for Kölner-Liste

On the easel, new works for Kölner-Liste


Kölner-Liste Art Fair will be held from April 28-30 at XPOST Köln, Gladbacher Wall 5, 50670 Cologne, with the opening on Thursday, April 27th, 2017, 6 to 10 pm. I have a small number of invitations, so if you would like to attend the opening or visit on the Friday simply send me a message and your invitation will be emailed to you.