Art criticism – Tim Schmutzler

In me are a thousand pictures – The painter Paulus Remmers

Paulus Remmers lives with his large family in a cosy house in Rheden in Lower Saxony. Right next door is his studio and the gallery in which he shows his own and other people’s work.

Paulus Remmers is an artist whose biography alone arouses curiosity about his pictures and whose and his manifold life experiences today influence his artistic work. The works are not autobiographical in the strict sense, but rather represent the essence.

Even if the birthplace Wollongong in faraway Australia has an exotic connotation, for Paulus Remmers the fifth continent is only a biographical anecdote. Just a few weeks after his birth on 15 May 1956, his parents moved back to their native Netherlands. Here Remmers grows up in a decidedly conservative Catholic environment. His father was initially a businessman who first rebuilt his grandparents’ business, which had been destroyed in the war, then made a career in the metal industry and spent the last decades of his professional life working as a civil servant at the Technical University.

With a smile, Paulus Remmers remembers his first exhibition of early children’s pictures, organised in his parents’ garage, which was mocked by his four siblings. Otherwise, however, there was little room for the boy’s artistic inclinations and in the 12th grade he left the grammar school and two decades of wandering, searching and learning began.

The stages of his life during these years are a succession of new beginnings, successes, failures, illness, conflicts of conscience and attempts at solutions. At first, he designed gardens and soon realised them for private clients. The results of this work gave him access to a technical college for landscape architecture, which he left again after three semesters without a degree. Remmers turns away from his parents, whose life between bourgeois tradition and doctrinaire Catholicism is unbearable to him, and begins an anthroposophical year at a school that offers a wide range of artistic activities. The resulting desire to study art, however, does not materialise. At the age of 19 Remmers travels to England and becomes a cook’s apprentice in a college near London, where he actually wanted to continue his artistic training, but soon finds himself in charge of the kitchen.

During this time he had a spiritual experience, which Remmers describes as a penetration of the body by sunlight, so that he experienced his ego in its spiritual dimension. Today he sees this as one of the sources of his painterly inspiration. The desire to become a pastor arose in him, because turning away from Catholicism did not mean turning away from Christian teaching per se. But first his path leads him to Norway, where he works in a home for handicapped youths and begins a remedial education, which he later continues in the U.S. He works as a lumberjack and bricklayer and hitchhikes across the country, from the Northeast to the Southwest. He finds work and a place to live in San Francisco, where he reconnects with anthroposophical circles and moves to Philadelphia to attend a pre-seminary for pastoral training. From there he arrives in Stuttgart and begins his actual religious training. An initially misdiagnosed illness forced him to repeatedly interrupt his training and work. The next decades of his life are marked by more or less long stays in hospital. Paulus Remmers breaks off his studies and moves to Belgium with his wife to work as a housekeeping manager and cook in a home. In the mid-eighties he studied art at the Ruud Wackers Art Academy in Amsterdam. He opens a successful restaurant in Utrecht, then lives in Switzerland for a while. In 1989 he decides to move to Hanover to complete his theology studies. Another bout of illness prevents his ordination and his first marriage breaks up. The initially successful attempt to set up a centre for life counselling in Elze is thwarted by a cheating partner. Paulus Remmers is left with four children of his own, two children of his second wife Ruth and two more children he shares with her.

It is November 1994 when the Remmers family moves into a dilapidated house near their present home and Paulus Remmers decides from now on to devote himself entirely to painting and to live from the sale of his pictures. The long pent-up desire to paint is discharged in an enormous creative urge. In painting he finds a way to self-healing and his true calling. “There are a thousand pictures in me that want and need to get out,” says the painter. “I paint from being, the I”. Not bound to any school, he stands with each painting on the threshold from the sensual to the supersensual, drawing from the supersensual the justification for his painting. Paulus Remmers’ paintings shine with this supersensory insight, are at the same time a mirror of everyday reality with its light and colour phenomena and at the same time of the borderline experiences of a man who has had experiences with the beyond in difficult and desperate moments. Thus, in addition to the superficial superimposition and juxtaposition of colours and forms, the viewer also always sees something incomprehensibly transcendental in the work of Paulus Remmers.

Tim Schmutzler
Art historian, Berlin