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More Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_wilted_sunflowers painting 1914

1914 – on the eve of war

Following on from the last post, I’m now enjoying a weissbier and melange (white coffee) after sausages and sauerkraut in the central square of Tulln. It turned out the railway station was actually Schiele’s birthplace – his father was station master and Egon was born in the apartment that came with the job on the first floor. His earliest subjects as a budding artist of 6 or 7 were the trains.

On leaving the station up the cobbled lane you start to come across notices on the ground marked: Egon Schiele Weg (ES Way). This is in marked contrast to my 1984 visit to Neulengbach (where Schiele kept a studio in his key years with his lover Wally (Walburga Neuzil) and where his guardian had a summer house). On arrival I asked a man in the main street if he knew where Schiele’s studio was. He told me urgently that you can’t talk about that round here and hussled me off to a nearby bar. He bought me a white wine before launching into an apology (in the original sense – explanation) for Austria’s role in WW2 – they were poor being the crux of it. I failed to find the studio which I knew had been in a small country lane. I may try again tomorrow.

Following the Weg I came across a junior school named after Schiele in 2015 on the 125 anniversary of the birth of who is now recognised as ‘the most famous son’ of Tulln. Quite a turnaround since his still underground status in the 80s.

By the Danube is a small museum dedicated to Schiele’s early years which was established in 1990, on his centenary, just over 5 years after my scholarship visit. None of the paintings I saw there today in the Frühe Gemälde (Early Paintings) exhibition betray his genius or originality except one. He was only 17/18, not yet finding his voice, but a painting of sunflowers (a field of which I saw from the train at Klosterneuburg where Schiele went to secondary school and first exhibited (in the monastery)) showed the advent of a design sensibility which shaped his future work.

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1908 – on the eve of adulthood (aged 18)

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Triple Coincidence No. 416 – Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele painting Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up, 1917

The picture on our bedroom wall – Schiele’s wife, Edith (1917)

I’m in Vienna for the first time in over 30 years for Doc Campus documentary workshop at ORF (Austrian TV). The last time I was here was on a scholarship from Girton College, Cambridge for research on the Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

I’d first heard about Schiele in a radio interview of David Bowie. At the time (mid-late 70s) Schiele was not well known outside of the Euro art cognoscenti. His description caught my imagination and I became a teen devotee, having always favoured a graphic approach to figurative art. At school I used to deliver drawings of, say, a glass of water that looked more like cut diamond.

So today I decided to go on a Schiele pilgrimage either to the site of his studio (Neulengbach, just outside of Vienna, where I had a memorable visit in around 1984) or his birthplace (Tulln). I’m writing this on an S-bahn to Tulln.

As I was reading Schiele stuff online this morning in my pension room near Schwedenplatz I noticed for the first time ever that he shares a birthday with my wife. (Along with Anne Frank and Robert Elms.) There is a reproduction of a painting by Schiele in the corner of our bedroom which my wife bought me years ago: it is inscribed “thanks for always bringing pictures”.

I left the room to go to the hotel for the workshop. As the taxi ride dragged on I felt irritated by how far out of the city centre the hotel they had chosen was, out near Schloss Schönbrunn at Hietzing. Never heard of the place. Not much zing. Burbs.

I dumped my stuff and got on the U-bahn to go to to Franz Josef station for the train to Tulln.

I have just set foot in Tulln, sitting on the platform to finish this. Schiele’s father was an official at this station.

On the underground to the train station I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Schiele. Lo & behold there is a mention of sleepy old Hietzing! Schiele had a studio at 101 of the Hauptstrasse I just walked down. (I’ll go check out the site later.) It is here he met his wife Edith Harms, who lived opposite and features in many of his later paintings. She died three days before him in the Spanish flu epidemic in the wake of WW1. He was just 28 but had brought a new modern expressionist vision to painting.

Update, 5pm:

On the way back from Tulln I’m reading my book on the train – The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido, a novel with nothing to do with painters – at least it hadn’t had until I got to the shores of the Danube at Tulln where, as I was reading, one of the main characters meets a student painter at college in Edinburgh. On the train back I got to a passage where this student painter’s style is described: “Stella thinks they [the student painter’s paintings] are maybe just a bit like Auerbach; maybe just slightly like Auerbach crossed with Egon Schiele.”

Bowie: The Next Day

I’m sure many people are feeling Bowied out by now with all the media coverage and social media outpourings but I still want to capture the moment (not least for myself), and book-end a sombre day with the reflections that have bubbled up in the last 16 hours on a truly great man.

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One Bowie

{This is a picture from one of my old posts (hence the odd caption – I can’t recall the context) but I really love it, so…}

Like many people I immersed myself today in Bowie’s music – drawn initially, of all the 25 long players (studio LPs), to Station to Station (it was interesting where my heart took me when push came to shove). And then to Blackstar because he wouldn’t want us looking back too much. And on to Lodger because …well it got me thinking, why does that one resonate? – it was a moment when he had a significant impact on my life…

1979. I was mainly into punk. One evening I was at home laying across my bedroom floor listening to a radio show on Radio 1 called something like Conversations with Bowie. I think I may still have a recording of it on cassette tape in a drawer somewhere. During the long (two part?) interview, centred on the making of Lodger, his newest record, he mentioned an artist who was making a big impact on him around then but was largely unknown at the time. Egon Schiele. I’d never heard of him, and I knew a fair bit about art (for a 16 year old). He was very little known in Britain then. What Bowie said struck me and I made a mental note which I followed up…

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Thin White Bloke: a Bowie-like Egon Schiele

Fast-fwd to four years later >>> I won a travel scholarship (the Morrison Grant) from Girton College, Cambridge to study Egon Schiele’s work in Vienna. It was a significant landmark in my growing up, helping consolidate my interest in art and Modernism as well as providing a colourful independent travel adventure. Thank Bowie for that.

Another Teutonic moment: Exactly this time last year I went to Berlin with Enfant Terrible No. 2 (who loved it – the cafes, the wandering about, the whole vibe). On one of our flâneur sessions we stopped at a big record shop and I came across a box set called Zeit of Bowie’s Berlin period – Low, Heroes, Lodger and the live double LP Stage. I bought it as the perfect souvenir of a beautiful trip. I’m going back this coming weekend (apposite timing given today’s news) with Enfant Terrible No. 1. He was playing Bowie in his room at Bournemouth University last night, pulling a semi-all-nighter for an essay, pretty much when the star light was darkening over in NYC.

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Father & Son

And on the subject of family members, our cat is called Ziggy after Bowie’s Ziggy. I was looking for a pair of names for our pair of cats and the one that found favour after a social media call-out was Ziggy & Stardust. (Her hair’s even better than Bowie’s, well worthy of her name.)

My director showreel when I first went freelance was to the soundtrack of Sound and Vision. I can’t hear that song any more without seeing some of those pictures including an underwater swimmer shot by DoP Jack Hazan (Rude Boy, A Bigger Splash) and Martin Luther King delivering his I Had a Dream speech from within an H shape (which represented the word Hearing).

The last Bowie moment that comes to what is now a somewhat weary mind on this grey day is not either of the occasions I saw him play live – 1983 on the Serious Moonlight tour in Grenoble (we had fun because he was clearly having fun) and 1985 at Live Aid – but set in a North London exam room as I sat my O Level English. We had to write a creative story and mine was ‘inspired by’ (for which read ‘an unsubtle rip-off of’) Please Mr Gravedigger from his first LP (David Bowie of 1967), simply transposed into prose with lots of fancy adjectives. I got an A. I went on to do A Level and S Level English, then literature subjects at university, bringing us back to Girton.

Another half-thought emerges: as I approached those A Levels I grew heartily sick of school and spent the second half of the second year of 6th form in my dad’s house (not where I grew up) shacked up in a bedroom with two things for comfort: a pile of Jane Austen books and two Bowie cassettes: ChangesTwoBowie and Rare. I did no work, just read that pile and listened to that slightly off-beat pair of compilations. All the exam shit worked out fine and it was a suitably intense teenage moment.

Just four and a half moments of different scales where Bowie had a benign and positive influence on my life. There are many others, many associated with particular records or songs – from Let’s Dance in a small bedsit in Chambéry, Savoy when I first cut the umbilical cord from home (at Boulevard des Capucines chez les Pachouds) to V2 Schneider on the jukebox during a Baltic educational cruise aboard the SS Uganda) – many moments of intrigue, delight and inspiration from someone who ultimately is a true genius and by all accounts (many today) a real mensch.

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I & eye

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Big Ones

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Little Ones

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