Art Work of the Month September 2008

Andreas Jaeggi 19900101

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This picture shows a stylised version of the doctoress Katharina Euler Obolensky who was my "surrogate college mom" and mentor during my time as a student at the Basel Art School and afterwards at the International Opera Studio in Zurich (both in Switzerland). Katia was a direct descendant of the Basel mathematician Leonhard Euler who was called to the Tsar's court in Saint Petersburg (Russia) in 1727. She herself insisted with annoying regularity that no more than eight-and-a-half percent of pure Swiss blood ran through her veins.

No words can describe the life embracing intensitiy with which Katia hurled me out of my self-righteous Swiss conventionality: the conversations with her about the past ... starting with the (truthful?) tale of her Hollywood-movie-like escape from the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution ... my staying rent free in her nine room Art Deco apartment ... the home-cooked, self-baked and home-made presents from patients which were carried over from the practice into the living room every evening before dinner ... my first trip to New York City to visit her eldest son Lev, who was the the head of the funds for the poorest countries at the United Nations, and to see a performance on Broadway with Mikhail Baryshnikov who had just escaped from the Soviet Union ... the uninterrupted parade of family members from all over the world:

Aunt Mika from Paris (France) with her jerky movements and her self-trimmed snow white hair, Aunt Walja from Bamberg (Germany), who could produce the most perfect pilmeni, meat pockets made with the thinnest dough imaginable ("Russian Ravioli", as we disrespectfully called them, eaten with melted butter and vinegar or with sour cream and ground pepper), the most brillantly intelligent and etherial granddaughter Alexandra from Bogota (Columbia), who was married there to Luis, a mega-macho-weapon-crazy landowner ... then there was the household help Friedel, schizophrenia paired with a violent temper, but submitting unconditionally to her mistress like a domesticated animal ...

All of a sudden it became too much for me and I felt entrapped in this disaster laden life spiral. In order to create my own space on a new level, I decided to write down Katia's life story, as far as I had been told about it. I was able to distance myself from her by writing an (unpublished) novel of 800 pages, entitled "Lydia Bucher". Psychoanalysis would have been more expensive and certainly not any more effective.

Katia seems to be asleep in this painting, laying on the fake baroque sofa, wearing her (originally) dark green high heels by Charles Jourdan. As a melancholic after-note, not very long ago at the age of 102, she – the notorious chain smoker and avid newspaper reader – had enough of all of this and just decided to fall asleep.