Painting with Georg

When I lived in Freiburg, Germany I took an art class with a local painter named Georg Schell. I remember the first time my friends and I trekked to his studio located deep into a very wealthy neighborhood known as die Whiere. We climbed up the steps to his studio, and first encountered a hallway filled with rows of water bottles and large paintings carelessly stacked against each other. The studio itself was entirely covered in oil paint smudges, filled to the brink with paintings covering both the walls and ceilings. Georg prized working fast most of all which yielded him an insurmountable collection. He was such a prolific artist, that the town of Breisach in France gifted him a studio, overlooking the scenic countryside. I have met few people more creative and have met no one who dresses quite like him: always dressed formally, with a black vest over a white button down shirt, black slacks, leather shoes, most of the time a nice black hat.

The first class he was a bit too excited to meet us and scared a few people off with a combination of his enthusiasm paired with a tendency to stand a tad too close to people. I left the first class confused because he had given me a single wilting rose to take home. He put it into an empty plastic water bottle with the top cut off. The bottle used to hold carbonated water and was not the most suitable vase, but no one had ever given me a rose before. I left the rose sitting on the kitchen counter in my dorm, which my roommates saw as very sweet. In that way Georg indirectly helped me make friends.

His advice often made no sense. He’d tell us things like, make it purple or use more water, without telling us why. Everyone’s least favorite Georg phrase was “Entschuldige bitte, aber das ist schon fertig”. When Georg said this it meant he thought your painting was finished despite the fact that you probably only worked on it for 3 minutes and you weren’t even sure what it was yet.

Georg emigrated to Germany as a young man from Serbia. He talks lovingly of his mother, but much more lovingly of Alsace in France, wine country. To this day I’m convinced we were enrolled in a wine and food tasting class rather than a painting class. Almost every class ended with the opening of a different bottle of expensive French wine paired with cookies, fancy salamis, pan fried trout, or various fruits. Thanks to Georg I know now that I love white dessert wines and don’t much care for fish eyes or alcoholic free beer.

Leaving Georg on the last day of class was hard. He held everyone’s hands for what seemed like an eternity. With tears in his eyes he pleaded, “Kommt bald wieder”, or please come back soon and visit. The man gave openly to us, beyond what was expected of him, not expecting anything in return. Whenever we shared a glass of wine, he always used to say, “One does not drink wine alone. It’s meant to be shared with friends.” These words, the taste of new foods, new wine, new friends, will never leave my memory.

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