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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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LEAVING HOME

Leaving home in this manner was a very strange and deeply unsettling experience for both Phillip and I. I remember that we both slept a lot for the first few days. We took a train ride to Aix-en-Provence and from there we went to Paradou near Arles, Van Gogh country, where Maria's family lived. Only Maria's old grandfather was there when we arrived and he was incredibly welcoming. He was in his seventies, a beautiful gnarled old man who had fled from Catalunia in Northern Spain during the Spanish Civil War and had never returned. Paradou is an incredibly picturesque and quiet little village with Les Baux, a famous, medieval walled town nearby. Between sleeping and sleeping, we all took long walks up and down the country back roads together. I have a wonderful photo of the Three Exiles, Phillip, Grandfather and I, posed on the ancient walls of Les Baux during one of these walks, that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

 

Phillip was going to wait for the pregnant Maria to arrive but I decided that it was time to move on. It was sad and hard to leave Phillip and Les Baux. But I decided to take Willi up on a kind offer to go and stay with him in Cologne and took a long lonely train ride through France to Lyon, then through Dijon up to Basle. From there, my train ride took me into Germany along the Rhine through Mannheim, Koblenz and Bonn before finally dropping me off in Koln. It was both a strangely alienating and exciting trip as I watched the barges going up and down the river and the old chateaux dotted up and down the banks of this mighty waterway. I easily found my way to Willi's house where I was met by his housekeeper who took good care of me until Willi arrived a few days later.

His family house was pretty impressive. Both his parents were dead but they had left him an enormous house and all the family heirlooms. In the living room there was a large painting of the head of John the Baptist attributed to Rubens and on the upstairs landing I found a small but perfect painting of Venice by Canaletto. In the basement downstairs, Willi had installed a sauna and bath and I spent my first few days in Koln down there undergoing some kind of ritual detox. and purification. Besides, there wasn't all that much else to do at Willi's.

Koln has a belt of parkland which runs all around the city and the Orth mansion was right on the edge of this wide-open space so that we were able to take long walks every day. And most days, that's all we did do. Willi was a pleasant under-achiever who owned six dogs. We used to get the whole pack together in the afternoons and take long walks around the park. I found myself looking for a sign that would tell me what to do next.

My contact at the Galerie Smend proved invaluable and the owner, Rudolf, was incredibly kind to me. He arranged for me to give a course of batik classes there within a month and to show some of my recent batiks too, for I was traveling with a small collection of my work. It was cold mid-winter and I remember walking round and round the freezing streets of Koln at night trying to figure out my next move. Life with Willi was wearing a bit thin by this time for it seemed to me that his life was pretty shallow and empty. I soon grew tired of driving him home in his massive Mercedes Benz car when he got too drunk at some club and couldn't take care of himself. It was strange at the house too. Both Willi and I started to miss money and it transpired that his housekeeper's teenage daughter was a kleptomaniac. On some days, Willi couldn't get out of bed at all. I clearly remember an evening when he had neglected to buy food for his hungry pack of wolfhounds and finally went out to Macdonald’s at midnight to get their supper. He came back with two dozen hamburgers with French fries and ketchup which he literally threw down on the floor in the hall. We watched the starving dogs tear them apart and gobble them down off the silk Persian carpet that lay there.

 

I had just decided that it was time to make a move, perhaps back to Ibiza, when out of the blue, neighbour Michael called me from New York one night. I had given him some slides of my batik to show there on one of his trips back to the States. The manager of a large interior decoration store had loved the work and wanted to order fifty pieces immediately. I had only to go to New York to discuss details and prices. I thanked Rudolf and Willi for all their help and support and took a train to London where I called up my brother and asked him to find me a place to stay. I had only been in England twice briefly since 1970 and felt like a foreigner in a foreign land. The 70's had passed me by during my timeless existence in Spain, Punk had struck in the meantime and I had returned to what seemed like a different planet. I spent a rather uncomfortable week with my mother down in Kent and came back to London to apply for an American entry visa. At my first interview, I was refused one, probably because my background looked a little suspect and because it just wasn't as easy to get into the States as I expected. I was angry at the suggestion that I would just stay in the States once I got in (!) and also at the little mark the Embassy official had put in the back of my passport. But I persisted and got another interview at the Consulate. This time it miraculously transpired that the official who processed my application had a wife who was studying batik. I showed him my portfolio, he loved the work and on an impulse, stamped my passport with that elusive multiple entry visa. Once more, I felt that I was blessed and that my life was getting back on track again.

 

Marie Luz showed up in London at the last moment but the thrill was gone. I was only interested in getting to New York as fast as possible where I was presumably to become rich and famous overnight. My last night in England was spent in Victoria at the house of some Irish revolutionary friends of my brother Philip’s. His friends were very kind to me and happy to help me on my journey but like a lot of people at the time, they were squatting in a great decaying ruin of a building. My room was on the top floor. It was in an appalling mess with a dirty bed in one corner and a previous guest's filthy, moldering possessions strewn all over the floor. In the very center of the ceiling, there was a large gaping hole. I sat gingerly on my bed and, looking up through the remains of the ceiling, I could see right through the shattered roof to the cold night sky of London overhead. As I shivered in my damp bed and tried to sleep before going to catch my plane early the next morning, the dust and debris of the Old World was scattered all over the floor around me. But I hardly noticed, for my adventures in the New World lay just ahead.

 

 

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