I am a Beuysian

Carl Giskes


I was born in 1949 in the hometown of Joseph Beuys, Krefeld/Germany, as the son of a clever cattle dealer and a mother who was very gifted in craftsmanship.

After learning various trades, I fled Germany in 1971 because of military conscription. I traveled to all continents and a total of 128 countries.

After my return I discovered Joseph Beuys while visiting old friends from the 1960s. Bernd Jansen, a Beuys student at the time, had attached a felt roll to a chair leg in his studio, and while looking at it I felt warmth in my thoughts. Much later I understood the Beuys utterance "The warmth character in thinking". Then I quickly attended a "Jours Fixes" Beuys open office hours at the Kunstacademie Düsseldorf, where I noticed how warmth rose a gain in my body. I was enchanted. His pronunciations were like music to my ears. Somebody once told me that if you want to understand Homer's Odyssey, you shouldn't read this book but sing it. I did this once on a mountain outside of San Remo. It turned out to be just: suddenly it was clear. It was the same with meeting Beuys. I think it's hard to understand him just reading his words.

From the first time I met him, it was clear to me that Beuys could tell me something. It seemed to be very refreshing that everything Beuys said was like warm butter flowing into me. Beuys spoke my language, the Left Lower Rhine dialect of my ancestors, which made me strong allies with him. I have never met such a distinct person before.

Beuys had learned from his secretary Johannes Stüttgen that I was a specialist in working with natural stones, and it was precisely during this time that I was working on a large project for the “Sculpture Park at the Seestern” in Düsseldorf. Beuys had heard about it and looked at the work. He invited me to a talk.

At the second meeting with Beuys, he invited me to produce his largest project “7000 oaks” and 7000 basalt columns. This was a mammoth project. Beuys wanted the stones to be stacked in an oblong triangle in a wedge shape two meters high. The total length of the sculpture was 70 meters. A path had to be laid through the sculpture; I designed this path so that one could only see the ends of the stones when walking through it. Days later, Beuys came and looked at the path and he was horrified at the way I had put the stones. Now I had to move over 500 of the heavy stones again and in a wild mess. For the monumental work 7000 Oaks, I had already delivered the basalt columns, which are around 1.70 meters long. My craft was made of natural stone, and the challenge was to assemble seven thousand stones weighing between 300 and 600 kilos each. In consultation with the municipality of Kassel, Beuys began planting seven thousand trees and marked each spot with a dug basalt column. Anyone who excavates Kassel in the future will find a kind of Stonehenge-like rock formations there.

It was honorable as well as hard work, I must say. While we were putting all these stones on the square, one day an at least 80-year-old woman came up to me angrily. She swung her handbag and threatened me that I would have to stop work immediately. Kassel was bombed during the war and it turned out that the dead removed from the rubble were gathered in the square, there had been up to seven thousand bodies, including the angry woman's husband.

After all the stones were delivered, we started planting the trees. Beuys invited the population to participate in the planting campaigns via newspapers, radio and flyers. Now it became clear to me what Beuys thought and meant with "Social Sculpture". It became clear to me that Beuys was a real ecologist, because before Documenta 7, Kassel had 11,000 city trees; now there were 18,000. His motto "city forestation instead of city administration" impresses me to this day. It is only today, 35 years after his death, that one sees Beuys' ideas break out of the shell.

I passed a café where Joseph Beuys was talking to Louwrien Wijers. He invited me for a cup of coffee, I remember the origins of "The End of the 20th Century". He waved to me and called me in. After that, Beuys wanted to work with basalt columns again. He drew an amorphous basalt block with a hole on a piece of paper and asked: “Can you do that?” I was allowed to keep the drawing. "If you need money later," he said. When I got married, I sold them for 15,000 D-Mark. I could buy the best washing machine and the best mattresses. Beuys called the sculpture "Symphytum Officinale" the Latin word for comfrey. When I asked what that meant, he replied that he had a toothache and that the symphytum was his remedy, and that's exactly how he wanted to heal the stone I had milled out of the block. Now it was clear to me that Beuys was a healer. Beuys awakened a sense of herbalism in me. Another project quickly developed that I was allowed to carry out for Beuys, "The End of the 20th Century", in return I was allowed to work with the basalt stones I loved so much.

When Beuys remelted the tsar's crown from Ivan the Terrible into an Easter bunny, where I protected Beuys as bodyguard, the importance of the transformation became clear to me. There was a lot of excitement about the remelting, more than 200 counter-demonstrators protested against this action by cutting the power cables, cutting off the gas supply and other rubbish. For protection we asked the Hells Angels to form a ring between the action and the audience. Beuys had bought the crown from the owner of the nightclub Datscha for 120,000 D-Mark. Until then, the crown served as a cup to drink vodka. Beuys kept secret what the new item would be. After the casting had cooled down, Beuys held up the hare and presented it as the new symbol of peace. The time of the white dove by Picasso was now over and the age of the golden hare had dawned. On the same day, Beuys sold the hare to a Stuttgart collector for 777.777 D-Mark. He invested the profit of 650,000 directly in the tree planting campaign. Today I very much appreciate Beuys' method of making money.

A local election took place in Kassel during Documenta 7. For the occasion, Beuys had several thousand election posters printed with the words "Andy Warhol für die Grünen". We pasted the posters literally all over Kassel. When I think about it today, I have posted posters for tens of millions of items at the current value.

As an economist, I was very impressed by Beuys. To give an example. Beuys asked me to sort out all the stones of his sculpture 7000 oaks that had been broken on the truck during the transport to Kassel. Now Beuys had invited gallery owners to the hare stone campaign. Beuys came with a template from which a hare had been sawn. He put the stencil on one of the half basalt stones and sprayed the motif on it with a gold paint. The gallery owners drove their cars backwards onto the museum square with the trunk open in order to quickly buy and load the stones. Beuys asked 5,000 D-Mark per stone. I remember that the gallery owner Klaus Staeck overloaded his car and got stuck in the mud. At night a gallery owner came who had the feeling that he was not being watched. He inspected the stones to quickly be the first to buy them the next morning. I surprised the gallery owner by shouting "Stop police".

Working for Beuys was a great relief for me financially. Beuys asked "can you do that". I said yes, and Beuys replied "You can tell me the price when you deliver it". This saved me the entire calculation and offer quote, so I was able to work more cheaply than with my other clients. Beuys' method of payment was very interesting, he only ever had the 500 D-Mark notes he loved so much in his pocket, I knew that my bills should always be rounded up or down to 500 1,000 1,500 D-Mark and so on.

When I was invited to Beuys' 60th birthday in his private house at "Drakeplatz" in Düsseldorf, it became very clear to me that I had now merged. It became clear to me that everything that I had known about civil matters was of secondary importance, and I was a newborn Beuysian.

The city of Krefeld, which at the time managed the von der Leyen family's Schirmau forest estate, had Beuys for F.I.U. offered to use this building. Beuys asked me to go together there to give an opinion on the condition of the building. On this long road trip through the German mountains, the "Eifel", Beuys gave me an endless lecture on the origin of stone formations. Now he had awakened the geologist in me. After that, I dedicated my main subject to geology for years.

On the long journey with Beuys we passed a very special mountain, inside of which the German government had built a bunker for its ministers in the event of a new war. Days later, Beuys gave me a drawing called "Bonzenbunker" for an exhibition in the Fluxuszone West in Krefeld. Now I saw Beuys' political aggressiveness.

At the invitation of Joseph Beuys, I traveled to Bonn in Germany to the meeting "Beuys and the Dalai Lama" initiated by Louwrien Wijers. Here it became clear to me how adored Beuys was. I remember that the crowds around Beuys flew like mosquitoes in the light.

I remember well that the normal citizens did not know Beuys personally, hated him and called him a charlatan. I remember exactly when I decided to give up my well- running company to work for Beuys in Kassel. My brother- in-law contacted me to tell me that it was a big mistake for me to work for this charlatan and swindler.

On the advice of Joseph Beuys, I came to terms with the Netherlands, and after Beuys' death I was able to help shape a lot in his name. Among others, the congress in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam "Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy" and “100 days Joseph Beuys” at Louwrien Wijers and Egon Hanfstingl place in Friesland. There I delivered the stone with the golden hare.

Due to the purity of Beuys material used in art as well as fat, felt, copper, gold, stone and many other materials, I became interested in using clay as a material. With this purity in my stomach, I could really get started. I started the Tierrafino company from Amsterdam. Many famous architects quickly discovered that they could put the dot on the i with the clean material of clay. I was able to realize many thousands of projects, for example the Getty Foundation in LA, the private house of Brad Pitt on Long Island, the private country house of the King of Saudi Arabia, OIBIBIO in Amsterdam, 6 town halls in the Netherlands. the district court in Zutphen, the EXPO2000 outdoor facility by Kamel Louafi, the holiday home of Vladimir Putin, the tax office of Enschede, Museum Küppersmühle Duisburg by Herzog de Meuron, the headquarters of PostNL in The Hague, the Food Forum Floriade Almere, Karl Lagerfeld OUTLED and many others.

On this long journey I met Lucrezia Durini, she was completely obsessed and enamoured with Joseph Beuys and had already written a lot of books about this exceptional artist. Beuys spent much of his time visiting Lucrezia and Bubi Durini in Bolognano, Italy. First of all, Waldo Bien, Babeth M. VanLoo, Jacobus Kloppenburg, Patrick Healy, U We Claus and I received an invitation to fill a large room during the 2007 Venice Biennale with Beuys related works. Now the train had really left, various invitations to exhibitions initated by Lucrezia followed, in which I was allowed to participate as a craftsman from Beuys. Bolognano 2008, Olive stone Kunsthaus Zurich 2011, 13 nov. 2015 La Maison d'Italie Paris, Industrial Art Biennale Labin Croatia 2016, Milano 2017, Filmfestival Amsterdam 2018, Bolognano 2019. At each of these events Lucrezia appeared with a new book about Beuys. Before that, I only met a few people who were so connected to Beuys. This beautiful lady, who always appeared in different Yamamoto clothes, brought all kinds of people together, and woe to the one who fell asleep or seemed dreamy, she would grab him and tear him to pieces on the spot. During her visit to my studio in Amsterdam, she understood my connection to Beuys through my use of clay. Several Beuys hares followed, which I engraved in basalt and gilded by Waldo Bien to go to Italy.

I wrote this text on a renewed invitation from Lucrezia Durini to the exhibition 100 Years of Joseph Beuys in Bolognano, Italy. She asked me to write down what I had experienced with Beuys. No more and no less.

Waldo Bien, U We Claus, Carl Giskes, Dieter Schwerdtle, Winfrid Parkinson, Lucrezia Durini, M HKA, Bild Kunst Bonn, Ute Klopphaus, Jorge Zontal, Sigi Sander, Gottfried Schneider, Fabian Püschel, DIA Art Foundation

With thanks to:
Sebastian Bien, Hilarius Hofstede, Armin Ardi, Lady Natarelli, Mathijs Gomperts, Niels Gomperts, Lukas Hahnemann, Catherina Giskes, Bianca Wouters, Dobromir Ivan, Peter Lindeman, Eva Beuys, Waldo Bien, U We Claus, Babeth VanLoo, Jacobus Kloppenburg, Patrick Healy, Eliane Gomperts, Lucrezia Durini, Daniel de Leeuw, Lino Frederico, Johannes Stüttgen, Fernando Groener, Caco Ramacher, Klaus Eckert, Bruno Hoffmann, Louwrien Wijers, Egon Hanfstingl, Ebel Glastra

cover artwork by Daria Canta