Going To The Mountain
Summer 2003 with Ernst Fuchs in Payerbach, Austria

Traveling back to Austria will always be something precious to me. My first time in Payerbach/Reichenau, three years ago, was a coming out sort of speak. I had recently quit my professional career to devote myself to my art and that trip was the first time I traveled abroad, the first time I studied art formally, and the first time I was away from my husband for more than a night. It was also my introduction to the Mische technique, Ernst Fuchs, fantastic realism, and the discovery of my visionary family. For me, Austria will always be the place where I stepped onto my path as the artist I had always dreamed of being.

Though I would definitely count that first year as a turning point in my life, this year held it’s own special meaning. I was going to the top of the mountain, metaphorically speaking, to study with the master whom I had met only a few short years ago, Professor Ernst Fuchs. To say I was nervous would be a gross understatement. And to add to my nervousness, I was to share studio space with Brigid Marlin who was also attending the seminar. Not only was I in the presence of one great artist, but two! I could only ponder how I could be so fortunate.

I started my first day in the studio working on two fantastical pieces I had brought from home. After several hours, Professor Fuchs came into the studio. He walked around to see what everyone was up to, gave out his hmms and ahhs, and made his way over to my easel. He looked at my work and said, “you have a firm grip on the egg tempera”. And that was it. He blew out as quickly as he blew in.

Later that same day, Professor Fuchs requested that we all practice some life drawing. We gathered in a room in the Kuenburg Castle to sketch a formal portrait of a friend who had joined Fuchs that day. We were all getting comfortable when Professor Fuchs patted the chair next to him and suggested that I sit there. Flattered and terrified, I gathered my pencils from the back corner where I was hoping to hide and joined him. I could barely hold my pencil I was so aware of his presence. Not only had I never done a portrait before, but Professor Fuchs also keep looking at what I was doing. My resulting portrait, well, let’s just say it sort of looked like the Professor's friend.

Every day that first week we sketched. “You must draw from Nature 2 hours every day”, were the Professor’s instructions and we did. We had a lovely model that even sat still while there were ants crawling on her! Professor Fuchs made his rounds to every student and when he came to me, I wanted to hide under a rock. I waited in anticipated horror while he looked at my sketches. “AHH Linda! Too heavy”, is what he said to me, “too much scribbling, just one line, like this”, and he showed me what he meant.

The next session was the same, “AHH Linda!” I had tried but still my hand was too heavy and my lines too sketchy. I could barely stand his eyes on my work. Then with the most loving kindness, he crouched down next to me and began to explain how I should think about constructing the body. He told me to think of the body as architecture. That was the switch. My next sketch was near perfect. I was astounded at my own hand! The Professor knew exactly what to say to me so I could SEE.

Though it seems small, for me that was a huge ah-ha moment. I believe it was in that moment when my ego completely dissolved and I submitted myself artistically to this great master. I realized how much more of what he said I understood when we were looking at something together. I realized that the Professor was sharing his eyes. What a gift! My canvases drying in the studio, though interesting, were no longer appropriate because we couldn't look at the vision in my brain together. So, bright and early Monday morning, before the Professor arrived, I abandon my previous work to prepared a new canvas and set up a simple still life - an apple on a cloth.

When Fuchs arrived I was busy with my apple sketch. He was very pleased that I had changed my itinerary, though he though my choice of subject matter was too complex. Too complex? What is simpler than an apple on a cloth I thought to myself? Still, off we went to scour the Kuenburg to find a simpler object. We looked at statues and skulls and a host of different fruits, none of which satisfied the Professor. Then he had a remembering and off he went with me in tow until he stopped at the far end of the Castle Kuenburg. “Yes”, he said, “this is very simple”. There before us, set in a cove on the side of the Castle, was a statue of the Madonna and Child. Simpler for who I had to wonder, but I submitted and proceeded to drag all of my supplies outside to work.

For a week I sat outside, under an umbrella, rain and shine, painting the Madonna and Child. I worked at a feverish pace, trying to be determinate with the placements of my strokes, while the lessons of the Professor played over and over in my head – light before dark, look for the shapes, think about the structure, just one line. I wanted so badly to pull all of his lessons together in my piece, and I believe I succeeded. On Friday, the last day I saw the Professor, I had completed the underpainting and was just starting with local color. When Professor Fuchs came into the studio I had to painfully wait while he critiqued the other students first. When it was my turn I sat holding my breath as Fuchs turned my canvas this way and that way, looking through the layers of what I had done with his x-ray eyes. Then he spoke, “you’re on your way my daughter”.

My time in Austria with Professor Fuchs seems like a dream now. Memories swirl around me like the aroma of night blooming jasmine on a balmy summer night, thick and sweet on my pallet. They fill my home studio along with the echo of Fuchs’ teachings resounding loudly in my head, reverberating against all of my new ideas. And in my frustrations, as I try to apply his lessons, I can hear him say, “AHH Linda!” I smile to myself. Then I feel his gentle hand on my shoulder as he guides me through my mind’s eye to the resolution needed. How fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to study with a great master so early in my artistic career. I know that I will never again face the canvas without feeling the comforting embrace of his presence, reminding me, that I am, on my way.

Professor Fuchs and me
Payerbach, Austria 2003