Betreff: Re: Sandow Birk-Kurt Cobain painting
An: Sandow Birk
Datum: 29.06.04 12:07:03
Dear Mr. Birk,
My name is Martin Fuchs, I'm from Hannover, Germany and for some years
I'm working on my homepage at http://mitglied.lycos.de/RaFuchs/.
I was also (and in some way I'm still) a fan of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain (I've
seen them live in 1989). Some years ago I found a picture of your Kurt Cobain-Painting
in the german music magazine "testcard" (http://www.testcard.de/)
and I used it to illustrate my websides about Nirvana (http://mitglied.lycos.de/RaFuchs/musik/nirvana/index.htm).
I liked the painting because of the contradiction of the peaceful scene and the
torn up head of Cobain surrounded by a halo/gloriole which some people didn't
seam to notice. It is obvious that the painting doesn't show the real happenings
because the body is in a different position than on the only known photograph
of Cobains body, also the position of the shotgun and some other facts. But that's
not important, because the painting doesn't romanticize the death of Cobain, it
shows the cruel facts of a shotgun suicide, yet it shows some kind of respect
to Cobain by surrounding him with a peaceful scene and a halo. I think it matches
with my feelings about the suicide, on one hand it's sad to loose such a gifted
artist, on the other hand I'm angry about the way he betrayed his fans and his
family by taking the easy way out through suicide.
But this is not the reason
for writing to you. For years nobody cared about the picture of your painting
on my website, but since last year a lot of people started to complain about it.
Some say that it's a kinky rotten photograph - not noticing the halo - and that
I have a sick mind putting it on my website. Others say that Kurt is a legend
and that I should not be allowed to dishonour him with the picture. Some days
ago someone wrote in my guestbook that the picture is just tasteless and people
who are painting those picture should be taken to a mental asylum - which I think
is ironic because there are some beautiful paintings of prisons and mental asylums
on your website - or sentenced to death and that he hates the man who painted
it. There are some really crazy Nirvana-Fans out there who have problems with
people who have a different opinion about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. So I'd like
to know whether you have similar experiences with Nirvana-fans (and maybe Courtney,
Krist and Dave) or not and what was your motivation for painting it. Is it a singular
painting or part of a series? And where is it now, in a museum or a private collection
or maybe still available?
Thank you very much for your patience with my e-mail
and it would be very nice to hear from you.
Betreff: Re: Sandow Birk-Kurt Cobain painting
Von: Sandow Birk <email@example.com>
An: Martin Fuchs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Datum: 30.06.04 06:58:03
Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your perfect English. I'm
sorry I don't speak German.
I found your letter to be very interesting and
I wanted to answer you. I am very impressed to learn that my painting has been
on your website and that people are writing in about it and that there are many
different opinions. Yes, I have had that response before. So let me try to tell
you more about it.
I am an artist in Los Angeles. Almost all of the artwork
I do is based on artworks from the past. I studied art in college, including a
year in Paris and in England, and I am very interested in the role of painting
in society today and in the past.
The painting that I did of Kurt Cobain
I painted just after he died. Like you, I was a fan of Nirvana, but not a "super
fan". After Kurt Cobain died, they were showing so many images of him on
television here in the US, and there were parades and vigils with candles in the
parks and crowds of young people crying and praying and leaving notes to him.
I really thought it was too much sympathy. I thought to myself, "Wait a minute.This
guy who everyone says is a hero just shot his head off with a shotgun. That's
a fact. That's not very heroic." I wanted to show the reality of what he
did in contrast with the overflow of emotions that was in the air. I decided to
do a painting about his death.
So I started looking at paintings from history
and I came across this painting:
is called "The Death of Chatterton" and it is by an English artist,
Henry Wallis, 1856.
Chatterton was a young poet in the 1700's who many thought
was the "voice of his generation", much like Kurt Cobain. Chatterton
committed suicide in the attic room where he lived, and many people regretted
his death, saying his death was a romantic tragedy, just like Kurt Cobain more
than 200 years later.
So I decided to use this image with all its similarities,
as the basis for my painting:
I read the newspaper and saw photos of his death in TIME magazine.The
floor is the same pattern as the floor in the room where he killed himself, the
clothes are the same as Kurt was wearing, and the things beside him are the things
reported in the newspapers: a box with his ID and wallet and a note, I think.
The newspaper said that his head was so destroyed that they could not identifiy
him even by his teeth.
So I painted the reality of what happened that day.
Outside the window is a view of Seattle.
The halo was to symbolize all the
things that people were saying about him.
This painting was first exhibited
in San Francisco in 1995. At the opening, many people were very upset about it.
Some people thought it was funny. A lot of different reactions.
was sold to a private collector.
It was later selected to be part of a large
exhibition that toured around museums in the USA. The show was called "It's
Only Rock 'n' Roll: Rock And Roll Currents in Contemporary Art". It traveled
to different cities for three years and everywhere it went this painting received
attention, sometimes good, sometimes bad. The exhibition ended with a long showing
at the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.
During its three years traveling around the
USA, it was seen by thousands of people.
There is a book out about the exhibition.
Here is what the book says about the painting:
"Sandow Birk approaches
a subject with a keen respect for the integrity of iconography......
views himself as an objective observer of the world around him. True to the violent
and often ambivalent nature of sensationalist docudramas and TV talk shows, he
has left little to the imagination in depicting Cobain's bloody remains in "The
Death of Kurt Cobain, Seattle". The compositional source for this painting
is "The Death of Chatterton" by the pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis.
Chatterton was an eighteenth-century poet who committed suicide at the age of
seventeen. In Birk's variation of the original, a halo has been added because
Cobain's fans tend to view him as a martyr."
I hope that this information helps, and I hope the postings on your
website become more thoughtful about Kurt Cobain's death, about what he did to
himself, and about what the painting might mean.