In Memory of Abdul Mati Klarwein
by Alex Grey
The divinely inspired Mati Klarwein created some of the world’s most visionary and astonishing paintings with meticulous brush strokes of genius. I was introduced to Mati’s work in 1974 by my roommate from art school who showed me Milk ‘n Honey (Harmony Books, 1973), Mati’s first book of paintings. The book is now a rare collectors item. Milk ‘n Honey documents Mati’s climactic masterpiece, the Aleph Sanctuary, a work dedicated to “the undefined religion of everything”. With 70 painted panels, it took him ten years to complete.Mati worked for two years on some paintings, like his Crucifixion (Freedom of Expression) an unforgettably infinite interacial orgy spread over a wide-branched tree of life. Another two year piece was Grain of Sand, an unexplainably complex and weird mandala of bodies, melting minds, aliens and flowers, with cameo appearances by Lord Krishna, Salvador Dali, Marilyn Monroe and Socrates, et al, which exactly duplicated itself in miniature at it’s center.
In 1976, I was excited to see Klarwein’s second book, God Jokes. By this time I had taken LSD and, like many other acidheads, found Mati to be my number one fine art reference point. Klarwein was able to capture the multi-colored iridescent visions and patterns of the inner worlds demonstrating what an experienced psychonaut and fanatically disciplined painter he was. Mati was born in 1930 in Hamburg, Germany and his Jewish parents escaped the Nazis by moving to Palestine in 1934. His earliest memories were walking through the deserts of Bibleland. With the war in full blast establishing Israel as a nation in 1948, Mati and his mother left for Paris. Staying in Paris for 18 years, Mati studied art with Ferdinand Leger, was introduced to the art of Dali and befriended the painter Ernst Fuchs, who taught him how to paint like the Old Masters. Mati later lived for many years in New York City, then moved to the island of Mallorca, Spain. He said that he added the name Abdul to his own because every Jew ought to adopt a Moslem name and every Moslem ought to adopt a Jewish name in order to overcome some of the hatred that engulfed his homeland. He was a totally charming raconteur and hobnobbed with celebrities like Jimi Hendrix, Timothy Leary, moviestars and royalty throughout his life. As Michael Palin put it, “Things happen after a bottle of Klarwein.” My own daughter, Zena, who was 5 when she met the 63 year old painter, decided that she would marry him when she grew up.
Mati was an example of uncompromising artistic integrity. He once told me that he had prepared a huge book of his paintings for a major art book publisher and the first word of the book was “Fuck.” The publisher was anxious to get Klarwein’s book in print but said, “You can’t have fuck be the first word of your book!” So Mati told him, ” Fuck is the first word, so I guess you can’t publish the book.” Mati went on to publish his own books “A Thousand Windows and Improved Paintings: Bad Paintings Made Gooder. Klarwein’s writing style was as unique and outrageous as his paintings.” He was a grand storyteller and spun both long-winded dream epics and psychedelic one-liners like, “Ecstasy is my frame of reference.”
I was thrilled to finally meet Mati in 1994 and glad to know that he appreciated my work and felt a fellowship with so many of the younger visionary artists whom he inspired. Though he knew that the art of the fantastic realists, including his own work, was not accepted enough during his lifetime to find its way into many major museum collections, his advice to me for overcoming artistic disrespect was practical and realistic: “You have to find and pay the best art critics to write about the work and show in respected galleries.” Mati showed his work in galleries and museums throughout his life and also sold works to collectors out of his studio.
He never tried to make his work marketable, but could sell every painting he made. Outside the confines of the artworld most everyone had seen his work through his record covers for Santana or Miles Davis or Buddy Miles. During his full and adventurous life, Mati traveled the world and maintained his relationships with friends, wives, lovers and his many children. He was an inspiration to so many artists because he expressed the freedom to imagine and paint anything. He visited and painted mystical dimensions of consciousness, and could coax us into spiritualized epiphanies one moment then plunge us into completely bizarre erotic frenzies. I join with many artists and admirers in feeling grateful that Mati Klarwein lived and left us his visionary legacy. Like a cosmic comedian with a wry grin who appreciated God jokes and a magic mushroom paintbrush, his paintings will continue to provoke both awe and laughter as they tweak the ass of our psyche. For more about Mati Klarwein, visit www.matiklarweinart.com