WAVING REBEL FLAGS
I've always painted straight from the gut, without worrying unduly about ambiguous interpretations that might interfere with my subconscious energy. I produced Gettysburg in 1997. It is also a self-portrait. I'm the guy riding the stuffed donkey on the left, alongside the charging Confederates. My hat is a paper sunshade advertising the Spanish liqueur Anís Tenís. My flag's battle honours read 'Shit Creek', as in the phrase 'up shit creek without a paddle', and 'Fraggle Rock'. Fraggle Rock was a manic children's cartoon series on British television in the 1970s. It was also underworld slang for the psychiatric wing of Brixton prison, where I was once held on remand for 14 days. 'Fraggle' had an alarming suicide rate among its inmates. It was wild. At the time, in 1976, I remember some of the screws wore neo-nazi National Front emblems on their uniform lapels and half the prisoners were black, proportionately over-represented in England as elsewhere.
Saturday, 8 February 2014
Monday, 16 December 2013
Wilhelm Salzmann could not get used to life without his new Russian wife, Tatiana. His circle of friends in the Ruhr valley from the prison camp, such as Bruno Streich, still lived happily with the brides they had brought with them from the Great War. Shortly after Tatiana's departure, he decided to go and look for her. How my grandparents, first Tatiana and then Wilhelm following behind, managed to get back to her village near the remote Western Siberian town of Barnaul, all the way from Germany in 1923, remains a mystery. It can't have been easy. The country was now firmly in Soviet hands, from the Polish border to the Pacific Ocean.
Western Siberian Red Army Officers in 1924
Sunday, 17 November 2013
Saturday, 16 November 2013
Under the weight of the war reparations and social unrest, the German economy went into free-fall. The local emergency money, or Notgeld, was useless for larger transactions. The Reichsmark plummeted in value. The once-powerful industrialised German state suffered the most dramatic example of hyper-inflation in history. For the miserly Peter Salzmann, who had considerable savings, this was an absolute catastrophe. In 1922, he could have acquired enough property to set himself up for life. A year later, in 1923, he was, effectively, broke. A sum of money that could have bought, say, a house was suddenly barely enough to buy a packet of cigarettes.
One could be a billionaire with a single, badly-printed, worthless banknote. The lower middle class, especially, saw all its hopes shattered and became the natural constituency for extreme, undemocratic parties. In the photograph below, Wilhelm, complete with Kaiser moustache, and Tatiana pose as a respectable, upwardly-mobile young couple before the Great German Inflation made this highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler, in his comfortable prison after his failed beer-hall putsch, dictated 'Mein Kampf' to his boyfriend/secretary Rudolf Hess, with Jewish financiers like Tatiana's erstwhile role model, Baron Rothschild, firmly in his sights. He also linked his economic theories, which may have had a limited factual basis, to primitive tribal fantasies about blood and earth. The Jews were actually not human, but devilish vermin. The Slavs were, as their name implied, only fit to be slaves. The blacks were part of the animal kingdom. These ideas were not new, and not particularly German, but they were to become so increasingly after the Great Inflation, replacing the International Marxist solution with a unashamedly racist National Socialist program. As a Slav, already smarting under old Peter Salzmann's insults, Tatiana doubted whether she had a future in her new husband's country at all. Perhaps she would be better-off with the devil she knew, on home ground, in Siberia. The gold rubles had been well-hidden, giving her a springboard to Shanghai or San Francisco. Her sister, Shura, had married a prominent Siberian communist, which might come in handy. At this stage, before Stalin took over, it was still possible to dream that a stable, egalitarian society might emerge from the revolutionary bloodshed. The Salzmann family looked more and more like a bad-tempered trap within the bigger poverty-stricken trap of Bochum. Could she convince Wilhelm to come with her? When he, understandably, hesitated, she decided he wasn't up to the challenge. She scraped the fare together and began the long, perilous journey back to her Siberian village without him.
Hitler devoured the popular press, identifying bigoted views to serve his ambition