walter womacka image

'I will not compromise in the least; to paint something beautiful and to convey a certain 'joie de vivre'. I am merely concerned with the embodiment of aesthetic ideals which have characterized all progressive periods of history' (1963)



On October 11, 1949, I came to Weimar from Braunschweig. The previous 24 years were the prelude to a fulfilling life as a painter. In 1988, shortly before the fall of the GDR, I left my position as Dean and that of the Vice-President of the Association of Visual Artists. Since then I've been living with the aftermath. The four decades in between only make up half of my life, but they were also the best times of my life. With this absolute and apodictic statement I make myself vulnerable, I know. Even if I admit that others who also have lived in the GDR don't have an equally amicable view of the past, which is not something I would want to talk them out of, some people will still condemn me for my personal commitment. I can live with that. I have stood by my political convictions throughout my life. Ever since I started thinking politically, I have been convinced that social justice, humanity and peace cannot be brought about solely by a society.

Artists - including painters like me - are social beings. If they are more than mere handicraft workers, they should possess a keen sense of awareness for what goes on in society. They should articulate their observations, make them visible. All art is political - even art which is banal. At the end of December 1982, as the Russians expanded their rocket launching terrain and the fear of war was looming once again, I was putting on an exhibition in Bonn. A critic employed by the local regional newspaper believed he provoked me with his review of the exhibition when he wrote: 'Almost an idyllic, this Womacka, a landscape painter who loves powerful, rich, bright colors and never tires of proclaiming: the world is beautiful! An optimist who paints and who has mastered the technical skills ...

Yes, I am an optimistic person. I believe in the variability of the world. It cannot be fundamentally transformed in a lifetime. Sometimes hope rushes ahead of reality, sometimes you mistake a vision for reality. Nonetheless: every step is a form of progress, every attempt, even if it fails, is propagated through impulses. And that's why I'm convinced. For four decades we have practiced a different form of social coexistence in eastern Germany, one which is different to the way we currently coexist. As a painter, I tried to help and shape this process in various ways. I am not defined by defiance or stubborn old age when I say: Most of what I did, I would do again.

At my age, aware of my own mortality and sporting grey hair, I find no need to mince my words. I don't have to follow a popular belief. Conforming, which is always a result of existential fear, is not an option at this stage of my life. This brings a certain amount of freedom. It is a well known fact that it also affects retiring politicians. In the absence of their duties and the office they held, they are suddenly haunted by wisdom, which until then has always seemed to evade them completely. Thus I can say: I feel comfortable and welcome in the world, but I was truly at home in the GDR. This is why I shall always defend it, despite its inadequacies and all its flaws. Perhaps some people might interpret this as a sentiment, as the last twitches of a man from yesteryear. They are wrong. Ageing doesn't make you stupid. It makes you wise. It is not something that happens automatically. Sometimes memories are a form of self-deception, which don't improve by featuring them in books and pamphlets, applauded by contemporaries who really should know better. Most of the time the old folks are right. Perhaps that is why some are afraid of people such as myself. Self-confidence in some always feeds self-doubt in others.This can be useful at times. Walter Womacka. Berlin, summer 2004.

Radio Interview with WDR here