To The Mountain
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
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
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