On Beginnings

I was born in Kiel, Northern-Germany and I have been drawing and painting from a young age, and the origin of my current work can, in a very direct sense, be traced back to those early years.

For example, my interest in portraiture was present from the very beginning, as I can remember tracing out the visage of numerous illustrious subjects, including Herman Hesse, Edgar Allan Poe, Picasso, Hemingway and many others.

I also had a number of formative art experiences, including a memorable visit to the Grand Palis, Paris, in 1983, for a retrospective on the great French painter Edouard Manet. To this day, I can remember his roughly painted style and the photographic lighting that exemplifies his work, especially on his larger figures, all of which left a tremendous impression on my emerging artistic sensibilities.

As a young artist, in my early twenties, I tried to get into art school in my home-town of Kiel, Germany.

After I finished the practical aptitude test, the Professor, Fritz Bauer, told me that I did not pass the qualifying examination. He explained that I had just missed the target, although he encouraged me to try again. I remember how devastated and discouraged I was, so much so, that I did not try again, especially since I also lacked the finances to go to art school.

But, over the years, Professor Bauer’s encouragement resonated somewhere in the back of my mind, and I eventually decided to pursue art on my own, to become a self-taught painter. I traveled all over Europe, visited museums, studied the old masters and taught myself how to paint. It was not easy, but I loved the challenge of doing something that I was not entirely sure I could accomplish. It was hard work and it required an intense mental effort, but an effort that was extremely satisfying in its own right.

To finance my artistic endeavors, I worked in a large motorcycle shop. From that time forward motorcycles and the open road have played an important role in my life as well as in my art.

Becoming A Curator

While producing and promoting my own artwork, I began a career as a curator, organizing large multi-media shows and large-scale regional art exhibitions. These events drew thousands of people. As I opened my own gallery, “Ingrid Lockowandt,” in Kiel. I became more involved in public relations and city administration.

My work as a curator did not go unnoticed. As the eighties came to a close, I was managing 100 employees at Traumfabrik, a large cultural entertainment center featuring a restaurant with 300 seats, live concerts—performers included ‘The Red Hot Chili Peppers’, —fashion shows, art exhibits, book readings and film openings. On average, 2000 people visited the Traumfabrik (now renamed TraumGmH) on a Saturday night—and I was in charge of the entire operation. During my time in office, the popularity and financial success of the cultural entertainment center increased dramatically.

But despite the success, I felt restless. Although I enjoyed my work, I felt unfulfilled and yearned for something else. Thus began my search in various religions and philosophies. Eventually, resulting from my studies and a strong desire to explore the world outside of Kiel, I resigned from my position at the end of 1991, at the zenith of my successful career in Germany. Drawn to sunny California, I abandoned my hometown and the comfort I had established for myself in the 36 years there.

Before my departure, I mailed my family and friends “farewell” postcards featuring the following quote:

“I have concentrated so hard on my sixth sense that I have developed a sight which can see through things. It is important to recognize the perceptions and omens.

I probably never learnt the names of the birds in order to discover the bird of peace, the bird of paradise, the bird of the soul, the bird of wishes.

It is possible that I never learnt geography in order to find my way and to discover my own countries more easily. My compass was the unknown.

Probably I avoided learning the names of composers and their music in order to be able to close my eyes more easily and to listen to the secret of all music as if I was on an ocean.

The unknown was my reference book. The nameless was my knowledge and my progress.”

—The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4. 1944-1947

The unknown would be my reference.

San Francisco Here I Come

On June 7, 1992 I arrived in San Francisco with one bag of belongings, not knowing the English language and a quest to discover.

Shortly after I arrived in San Francisco, I purchased a motorcycle and took numerous road trips exploring California’s diverse geography, from the Pacific Coast to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and from the Mojave Desert to the Redwood Forests. I especially love driving the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway One to Big Sur, one of the most stunning stretches of ocean coastline in the world. It was an exciting adventure exploring California on my motorcycle trips, holding on tight to the steering wheel, with the open road stretching out in front of me toward the distant horizon. During that time, I hardly knew a soul. It was just me, my motorcycle and the open road.

My decision to renounce my comfortable and familiar life was a conscious one − I was determined to develop faith and trust in the unknown. In California, I would question my familiar patterns of behavior, my concepts and my role in life. I would learn about herself, discover new possibilities, and, along the way, document and write about my sometimes challenging experiences—I felt it would surely lead me to something more meaningful.

On my first day in San Francisco, I tackled my first English lesson, translating the lyrics of a beautiful Van Morrison song. I had to look up every word in my German-English dictionary. How fitting that I had been drawn at that moment to this song with its refrain “No guru, no method, no teacher / Just you and I and nature and the Father in the garden.” Like the singer in the song, I too had undertaken my own search—a search that would present both rewards and challenges.

Saint Subber

I embarked upon my first major challenge to find work in my adopted country. In one of my first jobs, I worked as a chauffeur and chef for the Tony Award winning Broadway producer Saint Subber. He was born February 18, 1918 – and died April 19, 1994 at his home in Berkeley at the age of 76.

Saint Subber broke into producting in 1948 as co-producer of the Cole Porter musical “Kiss Me, Kate.” Among other Neil Simon plays he produced were the Broadway hits, “Barefoot in the Park” (1963), “The Odd Couple” (1965). While living at his house, I learned that his best friend was Truman Capote. He co-produced “House of Flowers,” by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen (1954). Saint Subber met Neil Simon in 1959 and produced “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Star-Spangled Girl” “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and “The Gingerbread Lady.”

The New York Times Saint Subber’s obituary.

Read the incredible story, published in THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL, January 10, 1949 —how the idea for “Kiss Me Kate” is began with Saint Subber, a Ex-Office Boy with 50 friends and with $7000 hits the Jackpot.

Saint Subber lived in the beautiful “John Howard Galen House”, 1401 LeRoy Avenue, Berkeley. I lived on the second floor. The house was named after the famous architect who built it in 1912, located in the lushly landscaped Berkeley Hills. Designed in an L-shape to follow the lot frontage, this long horizontal shingled house shows the degree to which the style of an eastern establishment architect (John Galen Howard) was influenced by western informality.

Architect Julia Morgan added a library wing to the north end in 1927 so skillfully integrated that it seems part of the original design. The house was filled with beautiful furniture, original paintings and photos of Saint Subber’s successful career as a Broadway Producer, known for his creative contributions to many of his projects.

See the work of Architect John Galen Howard

Although I could not have found more beautiful surroundings in which to live and work I still felt restless and so I quit.

Four Days and Four Nights Vision Fast Alone in The Mojave Desert Without Food and Shelter

Riding my fully packed motorcycle, I headed for a 250-mile trip from Berkeley to The School of Lost Borders in Big Pine, California, where I would participate in a four days and four nights Vision Fast alone in the desert, without food and shelter. I was ready for new adventures in the California wilderness.

Alone in the desert, contemplating my life, I sketched with colored pencils in the journal I had brought with me—I am documenting my life in America, through drawings and sketches, writings, newspaper clippings and so far, I filled 40 large volumes. I drew seven colorful abstract designs. In a dream the image of an elderly woman wearing a veil appeared to me. I would see this woman’s image again soon.

After the Vision Fast came to a close, I drove my motorcycle to Los Angeles to live in the house of a TV director Win Phelps who had been Emmy nominated twice for outstanding directing in a drama series.

At his house I discovered several books of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian poet, philosopher and yogi, and his spiritual collaborator, Mira Alfassa, otherwise known as “The Mother.” Among some of their photos I immediately recognized The Mother as the woman in my dream at my Vision Fast in the desert. Sri Aurobindo and The Mother believed that man must embark on a journey of self-discovery in order to discover joy, freedom and purpose.

Sometime after my trip to India, back in San Francisco, while job-hunting, one day I found myself standing in front of a strange looking building. When a nun tending the garden there smiled at me, I asked about the structure. It was an Indian Temple, the new Temple of the Vedanta Society and the nun asked me if I want to come in.

I entered and found a huge meditation hall filled with many rows of seats, which had the pleasant smell of incense. I walked to the front where the altar was with five beautiful Golden Statues, all richly decorated with candles and flowers. Those were the statues of Jesus, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Buddha. (At the time, I didn’t know who some of these Teachers were.) I took a seat in the front row and, since I needed work desperately, I prayed for help. When I walked back out onto the street, a large butterfly fluttered in front of me. I took this as a good sign.

Suzanne Huston Ettelson

One week later Suzanne Huston Ettelson called me to come for an interview—she had answered my flyer searching for work. Her house was located 2324 Vallejo Street right across from the Vedanta Society temple! I could not believe it when I stood in front of her house.

I was hired immediately by this elegant and lovely elderly lady, a matron of the arts, a retired journalist and music critic writing for several well-known newspapers. Suzanne Huston Ettelson was the widow of Lee Ettelson, a nationally known journalist who was once editor of the San Francisco Examiner and publisher of the Call-Bulletin. Her house, built in 1904 had a phenomenal panoramic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason and City views.

I moved into the top floor of this spectacular home, a room filled with light coming from the 6 windows, overlooking the Bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz.

This beautiful three-story Pacific Heights Victorian home was filled with hundreds of books, old records, a Steinway piano and original Mark Chagall, Picasso and Renoir paintings. For the three years I lived there, and I visited the temple across the street many times, to meditate and befriend the nuns. After I moved out I stayed in touch with Suzann Huston Ettelson, a gracious and lovely lady who supported and mentored me over the years.

Suzanne Huston Ettelson was one of the founders of Composers Inc., which has a concert season of contemporary chamber works. She served on its board of directors for many years, and was an emeritus director at the time of her death. Awards given by Composers Inc. for new chamber works by American composers were endowed by Mrs. Ettelson in memory of her husband. The Lee Ettelson Composer’s Award provides composers with a prominent forum.

Suzanne Huston Ettelson died June 1, 2005. She was 92. Her obituary.


Be a Part of Something Bigger than Yourself
Volunteering at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church

I found it a wonderful and rewarding experience volunteering at Glide’s Food program. Glide served 934,000 meals last year (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

Like every Thanksgiving, Glide serves one of ‘the best meals of the year’
By Bob Egelko, November 27, 2014, SanFrancisco Chronicle

“In San Francisco, you will never go hungry. All you’ve got to do is get in line,” Karl Flores, 54, said Thursday morning as he stood in line outside Glide Memorial Church for the Thanksgiving dinner served annually to 5,000 of the city’s neediest.

Nearby, Laurence Heard, 59, leaned on his cane while describing the meals he has at Glide each day — starting with macaroni-and-cheese lunches on Monday — and savoring the upcoming feast of turkey, ham and all the trimmings.

“These are the best meals of the year,” he said. “I admire this city.”

The programs at Glide, St. Anthony’s and other religious and charitable institutions indeed fill some of the holes in the public safety net.

Glide serves 800,000 meals a year to anyone who shows up, said Denise Lamott, media spokeswoman for the Thanksgiving event at the Tenderloin neighborhood church. About half the recipients are homeless, and the other half can’t afford food after paying their rent, said Janice Mirikitani, president of the Glide Foundation.

Continue reading.

San Francisco’s Neighborhood
Telegraph Hill with Coit Tower

While I was constantly job-hunting I discovered at the same time the city of San Francisco. I worked for the late Record Producer David Briggs and his wife Bettina on Telegraph Hill, 118 Alta Street, a small alley just off Montgomery Street. Telegraph Hill is a residential neighborhood in San Francisco, visible for miles around thanks to Coit Tower at the peak of the hill.

David Briggs (February 29, 1944 – November 26, 1995) was an American record producer best known for his work with Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse.

Shortly after picking up Young hitchhiking in Topanga Canyon, Briggs would co-produce the artist’s first solo record NEIL YOUNG (1968). In 1969 came EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, which featured the debut of Crazy Horse. 1970’s AFTER THE GOLDRUSH was recorded in a tiny, cramped room in the bottom of Young’s Topanga house beginning a long tradition of making on-the-spot recordings in living rooms, rehearsal halls, equipment barns, and other impossible places which simultaneously drove Briggs crazy and brought out the best in his art.

David Briggs married Bettina Linnenberg. Bettina would soon be noted as the production coordinator on many of the projects that Briggs produced in the 1990s. These projects included Nick Cave, Royal Trux and Blind Melon.

Afloat in Sausalito
Lonestar a truly magical houseboat

The houseboat was built in the 1960’s. The hull is a World War II Landing Craft, and some of the original features can still be seen. The french doors and windows were salvaged from an old Victorian house in San Francisco.

From my pier I admired the SS Vallejo a 1879 vessel. The old ferryboat was purchased 1949 by artist Gordon Onslow Ford with the painter Jean Varda and architect Forest Wright . The ferryboat becomes one of the main gathering places of the San Francisco counter culture. Artist Gordon Onslow Ford leases part of the Vallejo to Alan Watts, a Philosopher and Zen Buddhist. In 1967 the SS Vallejo is the site of the “houseboat summit” with Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder. Alan Watts (1915 – 1973, diet at 58) was a British-born philosopher and writer he wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion.

An Antidote to the Age of Anxiety: Alan Watts on Happiness and How to Live with Presence. Wisdom on overcoming the greatest human frustration from the pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the West. Read here.

In October 2001 I headed for rural Montana. There, in Bitterroot Valley, I lived in solitude in a cabin for four months, withstanding a cold winter. During this productive time, while working on my autobiography, I read the works of writers and teachers who inspire me—Thomas Merton, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Moore and Robert A. Johnson.

In 2004, after a long, adventurous and sometimes challenging journey of searching, studying and self-discovery, I returned to what I love best—painting. On my journey, I found a fountain of creativity, strength, depth and faith. All the years of self-discovery were my journey to myself and prepared me for understanding, deeply knowing, my subjects.

Painting the Portrait of Elizabeth

In 2006 I met a woman named Elizabeth, who was to become my subject, and mentor. In the process of painting her portrait, she would regularly visit my studio, always with an encouraging and supportive word.

Her feedback was both sensitive and constructive, a kind of feedback that I had never experienced before. It felt like I was slowly opening up, artistically, and becoming increasingly confident in my new vocation as a portrait painter. When I now looked at my work, it was scarcely recognizable, which is to say that I was genuinely surprised that I could paint like this.

While painting Elizabeth’s portrait, I was also reading Briefe einer Freundschaft, a book about the correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann, an Austrian poetess and author, and Hans Werner Henze, a composer. In one of his letters to Ingeborg Bachmann, Hans Werner Henze writes the following, which I have translated into the English, from the German original:

“The artist, although defenseless and vulnerable, and precisely because he is defenseless, has to put something up against the mutability of all things, up against the suffering and loneliness of what others don’t have, namely the triumph of creation. For there is a place in the soul, which may not be occupied by anyone or anything, except by creative work, a creative process that makes the bright daylight less terrifying and makes the nightly darkness less terrible. And with this awareness, we fulfill the will of the gods.”

I was reading this passage while looking at the portrait of Elizabeth, and had something that can only be described as an epiphany. It felt like I was deeply connected to a much larger reality that was both beautiful, as well as little terrifying. For I realized, at the very same moment, that with this tremendous opportunity for self-expression comes an equally tremendous responsibility, and that I must work hard to become a good painter. If not, I would waste a critical opportunity to “fill that place in the soul,” which can only be filled with meaningful, creative work.

Painting California Never Give up

My next canvas, “CALIFORNIA NEVER GIVE UP” was much larger. The figure depicts a young, determined woman working on an engine in a motorcycle shop. An open door in the background looks out onto a classic motorcycle, the California coast and its winding Highway One. This painting tells my story “CALIFORNIA NEVER GIVE UP.” — as quoted on the license plate above the door. Although I paint subjects other than myself, this painting, so rich with personal detail and symbolism, portrays myself.
 After a long journey, I have arrived—I conquered a new and foreign country and rediscovered my art.