First published: Fall 2003
It was autumn 1983, on the Lower Rhine, close to the Dutch border. I had just left grammar school and was working at Petrusheim, a nursing home for elderly men. I still don’t know why I waited until the last day of my time there to ask if any of the residents created art. The care staff answered: ‘Go and look up Theo. He paints dreadful stuff: Hitler and popes! We chuck it all away.’
Theo was a small man, bent over his walking stick, who wore a dirty dark blue sailor’s cap. He never spoke to anyone, apart from a muted ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A huge dirty handkerchief, which was never changed and with which he wiped his mouth after meals, hung from the pocket of his permanently filthy jacket.
His behaviour had already struck me as odd at the obligatory weekly baths, because he always wanted to put his extremely obnoxious clothes back on. The nurses, however, knew how to stop this. And, when he finally put on clean clothes, he had another strange habit. He would tie a pair of quaint leather straps around his calves, over his thick woollen stockings. It was always the same ritual. Once I grew impatient and started to make joking remarks about Theo’s behaviour, but the nurse warned me: ‘Just watch out, Robert, or he’ll spit in your face.’ So I waited with respect until he had finished.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #44