If images are stories

Inspired by the Painter Valentin Lustig, Urs Widmer Fabulates at High Form

Urs Widmer creates stories to the extravagant paintings of the artist Valentin Lustig, in which fiction and factual background can hardly be topped.

On the painting is a mountain lake to be seen with a half-sunken ruin, including a tower-like building with the inscription EGY AZ ISTEN, and in the foreground the holy Joseph is passing by pulling the donkey with Mary and the child Jesus behind. And what does Urs Widmer make of it? An unusual cross section of human history from the first specimens of the species through the nomads of the ice age, Alexander the Great, the Tartars, the Vikings, the Mongols, and—"one thousand murders were easier to tolerate than one"—Auschwitz and Eichmann to Ceausescu and the Reservoir that expelled the Unitarians of the Romanian village Bözödujfalu. EGY AZ ISTEN means in their language namely that "God is the only one."
Surreal World
Urs Widmers new book, with 33 paintings of the painter Valentin Lustig, who was born 1955 in the Romanian Cluj and has been living in Zurich since 1982. A surreal fantastic world, some times with Eastern European, some times Romanian landscapes and interiors, in which the depicted funny people and animals a bit of Rousseau’s custom, the work of Frida Kahlo and René Magritte resemble and a strange experience evoke.
In any case, the figures and scenes inspired stories by Urs Widmer, who just in front of a white sheet of paper—like no other contemporary Swiss—gets into fabulating and pipe dreaming, by which the objects begin to live and talk and a genuine poetic imagination connects mischievous humor and philosophical thoroughness with something new, and yet likable playful sense.
As mentioned in the text to the "Fantasy Landscape with the flight to Egypt and the Ruins of Bözödujfalu," it inspired Widmer to an impressive interpretation of world history as a result of incessant evasion and escape. Or, in the opening variation to the picture "Insomnia I", where the world is full of reoccurrences detectable only by "death test:" "Just go there and woomm.” If your suspicion is correct, your hand goes unopposed through them. If not, you are sitting there in desperation. Or, in the story, that Widmer invented to the picture "Hokan Néni climbs into her bathtub" that in fact is so abysmal that you must capitulate to the limitless imagination of the artist.
Interpretation and dialogue
At the same time, Widmer’s narratives are enmeshed with the artist’s letters revealing some insights that would remain hidden otherwise. So, for example, we learn from the painter that the Snail Trainer (in German "Schneckendompteuse") on the picture of the same title is his girlfriend Daniela, and the snails, which she let circle around herself are “the men of Zurich today” who are “unbearable slow.” It’s fortunate that also Valentin Lustig has tried to create stories, as through comparison becomes first the originality and ingenuity as well as the art of linguistic formulation of Urs Widmer in all their brilliance and uniqueness comprehended. Only when the one paints and the other writes, it becomes undeniable that two storytellers met, where each at the same qualitative level know how to please, irritate, and amuse.

[i] Books and the Book Release
Urs Widmer: Valentin Lustigs Pilgerreise. (Valentin Lustig’s Pilgrimage). Bericht eines Spaziergangs durch 33 seiner Gemälde (Report of a tour by 33 of his paintings). Mit Briefen des Malers an den Verfasser (With letters of the painter to the author). Diogenes-Verlag, Zürich 2008. 144 p, with colored pictures, Fr 43.90. Tomorrow Thursday Urs Widmer reads from his new book in Literaturhaus Basel, 7:00 pm.