Daniel Devlin

IT HAPPENED OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO and I hope I’m getting my facts right as memory can play tricks.*

It was usual for Herzog to disappear (sulk) for a few days but that week was different; he had broken up with Rupert for the nth time and we were starting to tire of his drunken rants at the Colony Room Club.
The last night most of us saw him was when he was being chucked out of the club for throwing a bucket of water at Dawn Chalkley and shouting “CALL THIS FUCKING ART!” while Dawn was performing her Tranny Manifesto.
And the last words most of us heard him say were “FUCK YOU!” and we all thought, “see you in a few days when you’re sober and got over it”.
We didn’t hear from him for weeks and we started getting worried. Eventually Rupert received a letter from him saying that he had moved to Italy, had rented a big top floor flat in Macerata (how he ended up in the Marche is a mystery) and that he had started painting again and that he was producing his best work ever. As he put it “my paintings are not shit.”
Rupert asked and paid me (maybe because I’m half Italian and speak the language) to go down to see Herzog, check out what he had been up to and possibly arrange for Rupert to buy his paintings. Rupert was still, at least officially, Herzog’s agent and gallerist but his main motive was to help him out financially, as although they had their ups and downs he did – and will always – love him.
Anyway, when I got to Herzog’s flat, I was very surprised to see Alex Koolman there. I sort of knew him as we had many friends in common but didn’t really. He had been staying with Herzog for more than a month already and I think he was one of the few people who could actually live with him. He was some kind of an art mentor to him but also a friend, a friend who would be there for him most of the time but also know when Herzog would be in his rumbling stage and leave the flat before it escalated. Alex would go for long walks during these crises and when
I was there I joined him. He could sense Herzog’s meltdowns way before anybody else and he would quietly tell me “let’s go for a walk”. We would come back several hours later with pasticcini; Herzog would have calmed down by then and would have been very productive with his painting.
I had some great walks with Alex and during these ten days grew very fond of him. I do miss him.
The flat was on the fifth floor and was extremely large, especially for us who were used to living in London. There were three bedrooms, the main bedroom (with en-suite bathroom) was Herzog’s studio. Nobody was allowed in there. He and Alex slept in the other two bedrooms. There was a small kitchen with its own little terrace and a small table, big enough for the three of us to have meals.
Then there was the “Ping Pong Room”, this was a huge room double the size of an average London flat. Herzog used the walls as a kind of gallery for him to look at his paintings outside his studio space. On one side was a ping pong table and on the other side a sofa with a couple of armchairs. I slept on that sofa. One side of the room was pretty much all glass with doors leading to a thin and long balcony. The view was amazing: you would see the buildings on the other side of the road and, beyond that, hills and even the sea in the distance. And if you went on the balcony and looked right, you would see the walls of the old city.
We did play a lot of ping pong, and the few times I beat Herzog, Alex would suggest we go for a walk.
I’ll describe the paintings in a moment but his self-portrait with the fingers, showing all his anger, was a scene I saw many times. Once I was playing a match and somehow I was up five zero, when he finally got a point, he showed me the finger with such violence and shouted “WANKER!!”, it took me some time to get back into the game (which incidentally, I eventually won and then went for a specially long walk with Alex).

Let’s get back to the point: The Lost Herzog Paintings.

During those three months Herzog had been painting prolifically. Most of those paintings I have never seen but those we were allowed to see were hanging on the walls in the Ping Pong Room. He was right, he had reached a turning point and these paintings were truly magnificent. I don’t know how much is due to my memory playing tricks as they seem to be getting more and more magnificent with time but they only exist (up to now) in my memory, as these paintings have been lost.
Annoyingly, I hadn’t brought a camera with me (it wasn’t like nowadays when we all have camera phones) so I made rough sketches and notes to report back to Rupert. When I was back in London, Rupert decided to buy all the paintings (the six I saw) and we planned that I would go back to Macerata with a small van and pick them up.
Pretty much at the same time Herzog had one of his moments, Alex had gone for a walk and Herzog took all his paintings, including those I hadn’t seen, and put them by the bins. When Alex came back a few hours later, Herzog asked him if he saw his paintings by the bins. When Alex said he didn’t, they panicked, rushed downstairs and the paintings had gone. I think Herzog had expected to collect his paintings later, as the bins were not due to be collected until the next day and he didn’t expect anybody to want them.

These lost paintings have been haunting me.

The only people, apart from me, who I knew had seen them were Alex who is no longer with us and Herzog who, when I asked him about them in Ljubljana in 2012, acted as if he had never painted them and didn’t know what I was talking about. Of course, many people might have seen them at the home of the “thief” or in other places if he or she sold them on. There must have been 50 paintings (including the six I saw) and it pains me to think that we don’t know what happened to them.

So, let’s get to the point and to explaining what this exhibition is.

Last July, I went to see Charles Williams’ exhibition at studio1.1 and the style of his paintings reminded me of those lost Herzog paintings. When I told him this, he told me that he had heard of those paintings through Joe Skipping who heard it from Alex Koolman and was very excited to learn that I had actually seen them.
He asked me to describe them to him. I not only described them but managed to find my original sketches and notes. It then dawned on me that Charles’ painting style wasn’t miles away from Herzog’s and we came up with the idea for this exhibition: The Lost Herzog Paintings.
When I saw Charles’ painting as work-in-progress, new details would come back to me which I would feed back to Charles. The result is these six paintings, painted by Charles, which are pretty much identical to how I remember them. I imagine that if we ever see the originals again, they might turn up being completely different, but this is how I remember them.
I will list these six paintings now, Herzog hadn’t given them titles at the time. I have recently tried to contact Herzog to show him the new paintings and get his approval and opinion, but he hasn’t responded and I doubt he will ever. So the titles to the paintings are titles Charles and I have given based on my notes.

Daniel Devlin, August 2019


*The other day, Keran (Keran James, artist and founder of studio1.1, London) and I were reminiscing about the late nineties when we used to frequent the Colony Room Club in Soho. “I wonder what happened to Herzog’s Yugoslavian friend, what was her name? You know, the performance artist with long black hair …”  “You’re joking? She was Marina Abramović”

 I’m still pretty sure that the person we got drunk together with wasn’t Marina Abramović but looking back at the notes and sketches I took for a painting of a group of Herzog’s friends, I did write the name “Marina”. I still doubt that it was Marina Abramović (I’m sure there were plenty of Marinas from Yugoslavia) but who knows? It’s a small world, especially the art world.


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