Fast-drying painting materials as an efficiency booster

Excerpts from the discussion with Prof. Werner Tübke in the Evangelical Academy Loccum (24.01.1992)

Detlef Hoffmann (discussion chairman): In order to give the conversation a certain structure I would suggest that we begin with the items which Mr. Tuebke has mentioned in the developing process and the more technical-manual field.

Hermann K. Ehmer: Mr. Tuebke, from your speech I had the impression that you place a quite particular emphasis on the old-world quality of certain technical solutions, for instance the gypsum as grounding. If one paints today, does one want to knowingly and consciously keep the restorers busy as it happens with old pictures? Yet one may assume that certain new groundings are by far more durable and that the ancients would have taken these in case they had them. Secondly I would be interested to know how that is done physically, how did you learn that?

Werner Tuebke: For the first question: More important than the substances, the materials which one uses, is the manually correct application of the same. This is much more important than the fillers etc. I did this like I always did in the course of forty working years. I can superbly manage the old coats, i.e. different coats on top of each other, starting with short oil, medium long oil or no long oil at all. And I did that because I am used to it. There were certain conditions, a large canvas, which I had to pay attention to. There is nothing secret about it. I only had to have painting material which starts drying very quickly, as an additional performance stimulus for myself. Thus there is no smoking or coffee drinking. Whatever happens around it, the skull to be painted has to be finished in twenty minutes otherwise the colour begins to dry and it is over then. More oil means glitter, thus little oil. The upper part of the body has to be finished in two hours. I could not afford to make corrections. 

The other question is very personal. I still want to get it done in a folksy way. It would not have worked, if the panorama would have been on the outskirts of Leipzig since then the ›skat round‹ would have been there in the evening etc. Hence this means that by chance it has indeed been very far away from Leipzig. I was totally isolated there in those four years having put up with the risk of a local separation from my wife and my family. She did not come along with me to Frankenhausen. We had a marriage by phone for four years. In the evening telephoning for a quarter of an hour and that was it then. And as mentioned, on the outskirts of Leipzig or in Leipzig a glass of wine is drunk in the evening and then one does not get out in the morning at half past four or five like I had to. That would not have worked. That was a prerequisite, an evil and very difficult one too. My wife had continued to manage the business and the house. – Otherwise utmost discipline. I actually never saw anything of Frankenhausen in the morning. At quarter to six I drove through the town and then up and in the evening down again. And as always I worked quite persistently, but even more intensively. Mid-day break including siesta for 20 minutes with ›autogenic training‹, and then until late in the evening, and during the day like a normal heavy duty worker on the scaffold up and down, up and down. – The biggest danger existed in the last half a year. I was afraid that I would once wake up in the morning only to say without any reason: I do not care about it anymore. If you somehow understand me. Something breaks away without explanation. ›I never go up there‹. As a consequence I then added the weekends. I was thus able to finish it. It was a wicked but also crazy time with constant listening to the radio, an age-old medium Super, Hessia 1,2,3. When music comes on I get irritated. I have a very broken relationship to music of every kind. But when the texts came, I actively listen and paint along the way. I do not think about painting. This comes automatically. After all one does that now for forty years. In one year only 250 square metres were produced, thus quite ›lazy‹. A torn ligament in the right thumb was the reason because of overexertion. It had to sutured by a very capable doctor in Grimma. He is retired now, a doctor who already had half of the Gewandhaus orchestra under his knife, there is no one better around.

Hoffmann: With my stays in the GDR I always had the impression that everything is much quieter than in the West. There was hardly any distraction, one had much more time for conversations. In the quietness of the GDR, this silo in Frankenhausen yet includes an even quieter room. In this quiet country one did not give away that much, if one submitted oneself to a self-prescribed yoke. Whereas here: the gallery owner rings, then this one rings, then one has to go to that place etc.

Tuebke: No one rang for me, back then, no. The situation was almost exterritorial. There is positive coincidence in life too. I want to list them in retrospect and in fact I am describing passed reality. If the whole thing had come ten years later, I would not have been able to handle it physically. Had it come ten years earlier, I would not have had enough art experience. And the order, the idea came in the beginning of the seventies when one was still somewhat ›snooty‹ economically. In a time where many a citizen said it is on the upswing, it is getting better. Former GDR citizens still know that. Then this faded away. But back then, the economy was presumably still like that. It was not anymore in the interpretation of those who were in it. They said: The panorama we create. ›We are the greatest, we can afford to do that‹. The idea and the realization of the order acceptance came in 1976. That is the first. The second was that the order came into existence. The third: Secretary of Cultural Affairs Hoffmann let me do my work as I pleased. At best he asked, may I drop by for a visit, not more.

Probably the cause for the whole snooty thing was that one said: We take the [T.] now just like he is. We can sparkle with him outwardly. – Eventually this was phrased differently politically but this must have been the last motive for the whole thing. Why should one do that otherwise? I cannot think of anything else. And the turn, the conversion of the former concept into my concept also took place effortlessly. It took three-quarters of a year and then I signed it in 1976 after it was stated in the contract that the artistic implementation was left up to the artist. I had all the support. When I needed half a centner of Cadmium dark red, I could call for it, then it came. One should not think about that. One has to deal with the material in all its abundance as required. Indeed one does not do more than one necessarily needs to.

The slow conversion of the exegesis today by the public fascinates me of course.

We just have talked about the kind of knowledge to be contributed by the observer. Say for example, whether one is well-versed in the bible, who on earth is? At any rate I am not, although that interests me very much. I think, if one has an explanation of a historical kind or of a tale ready: I do not think that one then has a deeper insight into the visual arts.

Hoffmann: We come back to that right away. I understood it that way, that you were already in discussion when a real panorama was planned. One wanted you as a scene painter then for the background of the panorama so to speak?

Tuebke:  You now used the word scene painter, not me.

Hoffmann:  I mean, in a panorama one stands in the middle of a platform and one does not know where one stands. Sand then comes, figures stand there and rearwards they are getting smaller and smaller and the painting then constitutes the view from the distance. The transition shall not be visible though.

Tuebke:  I think, one did not think in such a sophisticated way. Some of these panoramas of a classic type are very impressive.

Hoffmann: Were you also supposed to be a designer of this three-dimensional panorama? After all the conversations were carried on with you up to today’s version and the concept which you pushed through and which led to today’s implementation.

Tuebke:  Contractually speaking, it ultimately implied that I would paint a picture. Before me there was no colleague who involved himself with this work. A big difficulty still was the acceptance or non-acceptance of the assignment: One picture there, you have disappeared from the market, no individual exhibition, nothing or almost nothing on the side. In the first two years I still did some print graphics in order to keep the customers happy. Then this was no longer possible either. No 300 pictures or 400 pictures or 200 pictures which otherwise would have been developed. It was very difficult for me. One picture instead of many pictures. I think the colleagues advised me: Stop it!

Wilhelm Ehlers: You were a painter and teacher for a long time and thus knew your students. Why did it ultimately fail to include your former students in the work?

Tuebke:   I already said: In the beginning the 'artists' lodge' concept dominated. ‹If that had not been there, I would not have accepted the assignment. That the 'artists' lodge' concept failed, I have already mentioned. It then got better because I myself did most of it. Why? If you observe the work of younger colleagues day in, day out in my place and you find it excellent. But they also say that everything could still improve somehow. That is unbearable. Three years after the completion I could not say: but the colleague was so nice. However it was humanly very difficult to do this cord clamping. One colleague I kept, so that it did not get too lonely up there. He was a very good man.

Ulrike Krenzlin: What I am really keenly interested in now is the assignment business. This should be added to the painting because GDR art historians really said very little about that. I think that there has been a large file on that in the former Department of Culture of the GDR and probably at other places too.

Tuebke:  I have applied for my file.

Krenzlin: That this file was eventually destroyed. At resignation from office Dr. Arlt (Dept. of Culture, Dept. Visual Arts) ordered the destroying of masses of files. I have seen these empty document files on the hallways. And now just hypothetically, the next generation would take interest in this absolutely unique, approx. 12-year assignment business, could one come to you to say, Mr. Tuebke, would you show your files or is this no longer to be reviewed?

Tuebke:  You just mentioned a name, you should not have done that. And that is final now. Dr. Donner was the qualified messenger, to put it negatively – or the deliverer. Yes, yes quite a bit will not be quite alright there. But us, my wife and I, have ordered the inspection of files, as mentioned. Normally that should be possible. From the beginning on I had good contacts to the permanent mission of the Federal Republic in the GDR. It had to do with the fact that I have gone in and out at Guenter Gaus and others in the Hannoversche Strasse (formerly permanent mission of FRG in the GDR) in Berlin and even dropped by with the Volvo. There will certainly be much file material about me in that regard. However the correspondence with the Berlin authorities regarding Panorama is completely available at our place.

Eduard Beaucamp: I would like to point out that negotiations are carried on with the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg, which does collect artists’ legacies, like Marbach does collect poet legacies. The whole material will some day be in the museum. 

Participant: How much does something like that cost? Four years of work.

Tuebke:  The question I cannot answer now. If you ask for my salary, I will reply that this is none of your business.

Incidental remark: Those are public funds.

Tuebke: These would not have been earmarked for residential construction, if that’s what you mean.

Hoffmann: Is there a sum then with which the costs are estimated? How much did that cost the state?

Tuebke: Art cannot be expensive enough.

Beaucamp: Sums of 30 or 40 million Marks circulate in the newspaper archives.

Participant:  I have information here with the price: 51.5 mill. Marks.

Tuebke: Nobody can calculate that.

Incidental remark: We take note of that. This is too far away from our lifestyle anyway.

Participant: Mr. Tuebke, if you only worked on the panorama for four years and could not make any graphics, then I assume at one point that you must have been paid very well. But, what about the utilization rights for the panorama after the reunification. Whom does it belong to?

Tuebke: The rights rest with me, the authors’ rights, the publishing right.

Ingeborg Kreusch: How did that go? Was the house built first and the artist was fetched then or did one have an artist and buiId the house according to his design? 

I almost understood it that way like the house was finished and you only came then

Tuebke: I was able to see the architectural drawings and I looked at them with interest and said: Beautifully big and round, I have no understanding of that. Anyway while I was painting scenes (the 1:10 version thus) in Leipzig, the ›thing‹ was built. And when I started on site, it was in a desolate condition. One and half metres behind my picture condensation water was running down. Thus it had to be retrofitted. – There I made a mistake: Right after the reunification a panel discussion took place with Kurt Masur and others in the Gewandhaus. There one person said, you, Prof. Tuebke, openly said that the construction workers had done a bad job. And we, the construction workers, do not tolerate that, etc.
Something was mixed up there. I meant a bad job, and it was a bad job otherwise no two years of subsequent work would have been necessary to get the construction in a good condition. The construction workers from Merseburg, who did the subsequent work, thought they were meant with the bad job, but they were not. Well, anyway.
There was hassle about that in the press for half a year. Quite difficult to fix again, this thing. It is over now.

Klaus Winter: My question aims in the same direction. Thus the temple was there first. Did that mean that the commissioners knew from the outset how big this painting should be? Did they have to comply with that?

Tuebke: There are a few standard measures for panoramas, 41.5 m inner diameter for instance, this is a classical measurement. The standards do not, however, include set pieces, e.g. the tower in the middle etc. I have not adopted that.

Participant: Up to now the past was really talked about, consequently about what had been. I am from the former GDR myself, live right in the proximity of Bad Frankenhausen and and therefore often come there. And it was surprising exactly that earlier these performances were hourly and that really experienced leaders were there. Now a big question mark is posed. Can that continue? Do the funds continue to come in as they are necessary for that? It would be terrible indeed if that would have to be closed now because there are simply no funds available.

Tuebke: No, I am absolutely optimistic in that respect. Prior to the reunification 68 or 69 employees were working there against my will. My wife tried – she was a very determined lawyer – we tried to minimise that because it was lunacy right from the start to employ that many people there. And today, I believe, there are 27 or 28; even this is still too much. That is one aspect. But the Panorama is the museum in Thuringia which is visited the most, which generates the most money. On the average we have 700 to 800 daily visitors, and 10 Mark is a lot of money for current standards. And at the weekends, we have sometimes up to 1000 visitors. One can in fact figure out that a lot of money also comes in again. The management, the PR-work needs to be improved. The legal status, whether it will become a private limited company or whatever, is still pending. But we do not have to be in such a hurry at all there. Consequently I am not afraid. In early 1990 it looked somewhat worse than now.

Hoffmann: Let us turn to the content.

Participant: Which role does the jester play?

Tuebke: Well, that is a question which does not provoke any thinking on my part now because it is posed very often. I can never answer it. Mr. Beaucamp can always do this beautifully. As painter one cannot say that. ›Outsider‹ – I was just always interested in such things.

Beaucamp: Indeed I am not the creator of that. But there are strikingly many jesters. Within this panorama there are not only bright and dark worlds but also tragedies and comedies etc. There are also self exonerations because of the jesters, impostors, Harlequins. But they also play an immense role in other works of Tuebke. I saw a self-portrayal of the artist in that. As a western person I have my problems how one could get on in the GDR and legitimise for oneself what one did on a daily basis. And I have to say, that Tuebke for me has a totally discerning and transparent world view. In fact, the whole story is full of constraints, it is a total fuss. Everything is fragile. Long wires and strings are pulled, no human being is free and the world is queer and the Harlequin is everywhere. The ambiguity, which played an immense role in the GDR, portrays itself here in a way that only the dunce cap could be pulled over because everything was full of lunacy and full of violence anyway.

Irmgard Scharmann: For who was the picture painted.

Tuebke:  There are three answers for me. The first one is basically the only position one can have as painter. The carpenter likes to build his table and I just like to paint. – It would also be lunacy if I only changed my form climate because of a bigger picture. There is no reason for that after all. Smaller pictures look precisely like the bigger ones. And the topic is predefined. And for who? Well, for the interested people. I do not even think that much about the viewer, how the recipient will react – optical magic, of course, but content wise this is my business. Totally my business.

Incidental remark: Although you refused to give an explanation as to the content of the picture.

Tuebke: I cannot do that. I would try to misuse visual art as brainwashing (or as education enrichment), that would be dumb.

Participant: I have a question with regard to the picture details, precisely about the egg in the picture. What’s it all about?

Tuebke:  Everyone has his own answer for that. I had the need to paint white in front of white. That is the whole reason for the egg. A white egg in the snow. And since the spot is significant there, it is interpreted wonderfully. That I find quite fantastic. An egg is more absolute than a circle, natural, more organic.

Participant: A further enquiry, didn’t you think about your viewers at all? Those colourful pictures and the reality of the GDR.

Tuebke: Self-critically speaking: That is right and that is not right. When working I only think about how we do the best. Then again a mood is integrated. If you come in there at a distance of 30 metres, how is that going to appeal now, how strong and how big does the paint application have to be and how do you want to attune them.  Thus both are there. That I cannot separate. Of course one has to be the director so that the right proportionality is integrated. How big do we have to make this, how small do we have to make this always with regard to the viewers. But as the content is concerned, the whole is in principle an invention. An invention in fact, is not readable like certain historical processes. The many basic themes appearing in human life remain constant - when one goes back to the old mothers, the Old Testament. The degree of generalisation is very high here. That has nothing to do with the political changes in Germany. There are basic problems for human beings which have the same significance in 1989 as in 99 AD.

Participant: I consider it problematic to take the whole work out of the societal context and to just pack it into the individual, fantastic sphere. In order to make the effective history somewhat more concrete, I would like to cite a passage from a contribution made by Werner Tuebke in a discussion at the third convention of the Central Executive Board of the VdK (Association of Visual Artists of the GDR) in 1979. [Authorized stenograph in Bildende Kunst 1980, issue 1, p. 5-7, U.K.) Tuebke refers to Peter H. Feist there who argued this way: ›It belongs to the most remarkable, personality forming functions of art in socialism that it activates the human being and assists them in setting those creative forces free which enable and inspire them to consciously interfere with reality and thereby altering it.‹ Tuebke continues: ›Indeed, that is quite an important thing. That might be works which not in the least have anything to do with historical material. Still the historical process of coming to terms with the past is not to be underrated as stabilising factor - also in view of the concrete ideological and geographical border situations.-. for the steadily accumulating self-conception of our state. Besides it is also a declared programme.‹

Tuebke: Yes, I have got nothing to say to that, what should I say to that? If you want to take me for a ride, you fail at that.

Hoffmann: That is, I believe, not the intention. It might be talked about under the dunce cap.

Bernhard Schulz: Mr Tübke, the inauguration of the monument in September 1989 was a major state ceremony. It merited a two-page spread in the "Neues Deutschland". You guided the visitors around at the opening, I believe, Willy Stoph, Kurt Hager, Mr Sindermann. What were you thinking as you guided them round? Can you remember what you said about the picture?

Tuebke: The whole thing was macabre. It was practically 2 weeks before the end.
You have to admit that the customer, who had made a considerable investment over the course of many years and decades, wanted to have some fun at the end. It was clear from the beginning that this handover would take place at a high level. On the marketplace in Frankenhausen the atmosphere was already very peculiar. The names that you quoted were present, as far as I still recall, but Honecker was not. It was something that we had to get through. And in the picture gallery everything was fairly straight forward, polite and friendly, in and back out again.

Beaucamp: That is a situation that one never forgets. It was a crazy situation that I experienced there, because I had travelled to the opening for the newspaper.
Down on the marketplace there was a Müntzer manifestation and all these Stasi people. This is what the people said, too. I mixed with the people outside, obviously, and they told me: the place is full of them up there, all in blue jeans. I had had no idea, they really were disguised as adolescents, and entire FDJ companies had been brought in to applaud. We stood in the background. They were laughing their heads off; they clapped but cheered at the same time. And I asked the people, are you allowed to do that, the most senior people are up there. It was a truly macabre situation. I will never forget it. I went back to the West and said that it would not be much longer. Things are rumbling over there. Mr Hager, who normally ran a very tight ship, was positively adjuratory to the audience. At that time people were fleeing for Hungary. Hager invoked Kohl, that he could not let them down, that he had to stick to the agreements. And it sounded like trying to save a sinking ship through words alone.

Participant:  The coincidence of the GDR downfall with the inauguration of the picture cannot be positively attributed to the picture. The opening question was directed at the history of the origin and at the commission history. That is something reaching back to a time when the GDR and also the population still believed that things would get better. Just now it sounded like the whole picture had been painted in a way to metaphorically fit with the downfall of the GDR.

Hoffmann: One is indeed always thankful when reality deforms itself up to the point of recognisability.

Beaucamp: I do not know why this way of painting in the style of the old masters is accredited as a state style here. The contrary is true. The GDR wanted an action-oriented, open style and did not want this old masters' style. I saw Mr. Tuebke in his artist’s workshop in the sixties. He begged me not to mention his name in the West. There were some artists who secured their retreat to the old masters' in order to develop much more complex world and history views. That was not all at in agreement with the GDR. First an Italian trader arranged an exhibition in Italy. Then the press came and then Mr. Ludwig bought the pictures. Only after that the GDR considered -however that was rather late then – that one could apparently dress oneself up with that. Then these pictures were suddenly adored.

Participant: I think that the future history of the picture will be at least as interesting as its previous history was. To what extend does the self-image of the author Tuebke get along with the intentions of the historians and art historians? What about the access, or precisely stated, the legitimacy of the access of history and art history to this picture?

Tuebke: It was terribly complicated in the 1950s. I am not hawking around with that. In 1957 I was dismissed from the Academy because of Western art and surrealism and later I was brought back then. My pictures were taken down. That happened to many people though. To lay this on the table suddenly after so many years, that is bad manners, I feel. The sixties were also very complicated. I have enjoyed tranquillity more or less only since 1969/70. The affair with the galleries in Italy and France I have mentioned already. It was said at home that he has got something. But it remained difficult. But there was no reason not to make a picture or a drawing in a way that deemed right to me. I absolutely stand behind my work. Why not for that matter?

Friedrich Winterhager: It was terribly complicated in the 1950s. I am not hawking around with that. In 1957 I was dismissed from the Academy because of Western art and surrealism and later I was brought back then. My pictures were taken down. That happened to many people though. To lay this on the table suddenly after so many years, that is bad manners, I feel. The sixties were also very complicated. I have enjoyed tranquillity more or less only since 1969/70. The affair with the galleries in Italy and France I have mentioned already. It was said at home that he has got something. But it remained difficult. But there was no reason not to make a picture or a drawing in a way that deemed right to me. I absolutely stand behind my work. Why not for that matter?

Tuebke: That is all quite terrible. That must be a difficult profession.

Incidental remark: Why should only you have a difficult profession?

Tuebke: Actually I always do the same thing decade by decade. And sometimes it was accepted and sometimes not. That is not important basically. And also in the future I will not do it any differently and will not do so-called new things. With ten years I took private lessons in painting and started to paint better beginning with the 14th year.   The matter already improved somewhat and if I am lucky I will persevere. And if in the course of the work life you are captured then this interests me very much. I find it posh and nice and friendly or nasty but it has nothing to do with the production at all.

Krenzlin: What were you, Mr. Tuebke, thinking about in 1956 with the graphic series against the Hungarian Revolution?

Beaucamp: With regard to the most precarious point which Ms. Krenzlin addressed there: You should not by any means depoliticise and dehistoricise the work. Of course there are all these series. I am also trying now to make head or tails of that. Perhaps the series on the counterrevolution is the most objectionable. But this series too, switches the topic immediately to a Christian one. It always changes to an anthropological level. It appears important to me that the topic itself shifts from a socialistic to a Christian one and then – and that is always the case with Tuebke – changes to an anthropological level.

Hoffmann: I sincerely thank Mr. Tuebke and Mr. Beaucamp.

(Editor: Ulrike Krenzlin)