I had a wonderful childhood. The village with its' dusty streets, the outstretched fields that surround it, the river – this was my Play Station. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my imaginary comrades - their Mississippi was my Danube. I had a great many good friends among the trees and the animals, boys and girls, but perhaps the greatest friend of all was my uncle. At that time he was an open-minded vagabond and a poet, as all true sailors are. He sailed the treacherous Danube waters in search of the water nymphs, who would show him the magic stone beneath which he would find his life’s meaning. In the meantime he earned money by digging up the gravel from the river’s bottom, for the gravel was in great demand. He would spend two weeks on the Danube waters, and then he would return to the village and stay for another two weeks at the grandparents’ place, for he lived there, just as I did. These two weeks spent in his company were one and all joy and elation for me.
|Akseli Gallen-Kallela (Finnish), Boy and the crow, 1884, oil on canvas 86 x 72 cm|
He taught me many useful things; like how to play all sorts of games, how to hunt and fish, and how to make various things and toys, such as bow-and-arrow, a sling or a flute. I especially loved the sling. In time I grew into a master sling-shooter. No bird was safe when I was around with my self-made sling hanging from the pocket of my dusty trousers. I knew that the choice of ammunition, and that will say, the small pieces of gravel, was crucial for the success of the hunt, so I took a great care of that part of the skill, when collecting the stones from the street. I particularly enjoyed the feeling that a hunter experiences when he spots the prey. Crouching towards it is an important aspect of the art of sling hunting as well, and I was good at it as any North American indian when approaching the buffalo herd on his knees or when trying to catch a great eagle.
Kanoo, page 1 and 2, 1991, unpublished
The sling hunting was an important part of the business of being a village child back in those golden days. I collected many trophies in the form of wild pigeons, sparrows, the street electricity bulbs and a few broken windows, mostly neighbor’s. Everything went smooth and well until one day when I shot down that poor swallow. On that day, my nephew and I were racing in a cart through the middle of the street, when I spotted a little swallow standing on the electricity wires. Small target, big distance, fast moving cart – the challenge was too tempting for a sling champion, so I took my sling and released the little stone. I saw the “bullet” flying in a masterfully anticipated curve towards the little swallow. “Puff!” – the bird went down. We stopped the cart, I jumped out of it and ran towards the spot the bird fell on. I saw her laying on the ground but could not detect any traces of the lethal blow of the stone. I took her in my hands and she was still warm. When I turned her around to examine the other side of her body, I saw that a half of her head was gone……For a long, deep reaching moment, I stared at the empty little skull. My sight became hazy and soon the tears came out of my eyes, dripping on the lifeless corpse of a small innocent bird…After that I never shoot another bird in my life again. Neither I forgot that sad situation when I finally realized that I took away something I was not able to give back – a life. Also I knew I did not kill it because I had to feed myself with, but just for the sake of fun. From that moment on I was to express that deep primeval instincts of a hunter exclusively through shooting as many bottles and cans as I possibly could.
|Henk Helmantel (Dutch), Apple finch, 1996, oil on wooden board 20 x 26 cm|
Perhaps the most precious thing that I inherited from my uncle was - oh no, not a magic ring, as some of you might think - but the Love for the Comics. He was a passionate comic reader and he introduced it to me. By doing so he introduced Art into my life and thereby awoke my life’s vocation. Me and the comics – it was love at first sight , a true Love Story. It was a kind of addiction that would later on dominate my life for more than a decade.
In those early days I did not read the comics, I looked at the pictures only. I was particularly enchanted by the comics about Lucky Luke, the Wild West pistol hero who was quicker than its own shadow, and whom I copied often, until I was able to draw him out of head. As a child I was often ill. The cause of my troubles were my tonsils, that were often as big as the walnuts and as red as the early cherries. Therefore, while my friends played outside I had to stay indoors. I spent most of the time drawing. Many sheets of paper have been filled with all sorts of drawings, ranging from the fighting scenes of the Vikings and the Indians, the ancient Greek warriors, characters from Disney comics, Asterix and Obelix and already mentioned Lucky Luke. Only, I had that strange habit to scribble all over the finished drawing, regardless of whether the results were pleasing to me or not! When my grandfather once asked me why I do it, I explained that it was the smoke from an explosion – that every drawing ended up in an explosion! The moment I spoke that out I felt ashamed because I knew I was lying. The truth was that I absolutely did not know why I had to scribble over my finished drawings over and over again, and I felt bad about it. I guess it was a kind of compulsory behavior I was not able to resist. Till this day I did not understand why I did it.
Anyway, although “scribbling” along a lot, it was not before I was about twelve years old that I started to draw my own comic books.
As for my dear uncle – he died in 1999 from a tumor in his brains and unfortunately, I believe, without finding that magic stone. May his soul rest in Heaven.
In the next post: Start of the Art career