The most beautiful thing about New York City is its people, sings Joachim “YoYo” Friedrich, an artist I met on my first night in Manhattan, they make an effort to get along with one another despite color of skin and origin.
A splendid moment of serendipity, or fate, or destiny happened as I got turned away from The Mercer Kitchen. It was the first place I found once a yellow cab driver screeched his brakes and stopped me off mid Soho in fury of me not knowing where I was going. Being a singleton, there is no room for one, I’m sorry, sweetened the third waitress I was passed upon, as I look at the empty table and chairs. I headed aimlessly into the night in Soho, amongst closed galleries and boutiques in the bitter wind that clutched my face and snatched my head.
I gushed through the next watering hole, Barolo, ordered some wine at the bar and started to read my book, shaking off the bitter cold that had nearly reached my bones. A good fifteen minutes passed, when I paused between chapters, raised my head and immediately, YoYo took the opportunity to intervene. He was an old European man at the corner of the bar and from that moment on, YoYo stepped into my life.
YoYo is an artist from Berlin who turned 71 two days prior our meeting. He moved to New York City, Broome St, in the heart of Soho in 1971 when he was thirty years old and still resides at this premium address. Back then, this was the worse place to be.
Since 1987 when he became a Sufi, he wears a crochet hat, over his long blond hair that curtains upon his shoulders like ears of a faithful Labrador and his German accent and grammar is still in tact. He looks like a maturer but no less greater, Daniel Craig. Who is he? 007, I said. He tittered quietly in absolute but modest glory. His cool blue eyes are kind and peaceful but the lines on his face reflect a life lived through harmony and war.
As the night strolled along, and our glasses kept making a gurgling noise when the barman returned, it was apparent I had met a great man. When I spoke of my vocation as a supper club host and blogger, YoYo says, you’re like the guy from Paris, Jim Haynes. I am sure he was at some of the parities I went to.
Would you like to have lunch tomorrow? The next day, YoYo invited me to his home/ studio, in around the corner from where we were to show me his art work. He said, there is no point eating steak in a restaurant because I can make it much better at home.
When I entered YoYo’s door, I was astounded by the vast amount of space and his simple but elegant decor. A rocking chair on one side, a small kitchenette that he built himself, a large dinning table accompanied by 70s chairs and the flood of light that flows through from the huge windows. But there is more! YoYo opens the doors, elegantly hidden in the walls like in a gallery space to show me the room of his housemate, Nicholas Gamabaroff whose show is currently at The White Cube in Hoxton, London, his newspaper pieces seemed to be inspired by YoYo Friedrich. The opposite end extend his studio, a spacious work area that is at the corner of the building – YoYo’s place takes up about half a block.
YoYo maked tea, he offered me Earl Grey but I took PG Tips. Seeing me taking all those photographs about his place, he said, no one has ever done this before.
He has a shrine of gifts he has received throughout the years from friends. He shows me a sand rose from the Sahara, wood that has turned into stone. Stones and toys from all over the globe. He keeps them all, there are some along his window sill, some pour onto the dinning table.
Then YoYo proudly shows me the few publications and press he received in his life, from Flash Art to Art Review.
YoYo’s main medium is The New York Times Newspaper. He would paint on them or he would tear them and collage huge pieces, which curled up the ceiling and rolled down on the floor. I am the best “gluer” in town! he says. But newspapers have changed now and I can no longer create the same affects. Back then newspapers had shades of black and grays today the paper is published in colors.
YoYo’s few shows happened because of artist friends who established contacts for him with galleries. He did little to find a gallery to represent him. He couldn’t deal with the business aspect which took shape in the sixties around Andy Warhol. We started to live in “instant time” with instant tea, instant meals, instant photography etc. and instant art, he claims. Today the artist does not “create” the art market but the art market with its galleries and curators “creates” the artist. It is all about art instantly understood instantly sold.
As an artist you can’t be ahead of your time any longer you have to be in time with your work. YoYo worked independently from the market.
1977 – single pages, a photograph YoYo took of a girlfriend
In the eighties he collaged double pages of the New York Times to paint medieval motives and medical drawings with bold brushstrokes leaving spaces open to “read” the paper ” information from then on the information from today.” He thinks, that from the beginning of mankind the basic questions have not changed but the answers do all the time.
There is a story with Herbert Vogel, chuckles YoYo warmly, when I met him, he was a mail man, with the little money he earned, he bought drawings of conceptual and minimalist art, while they lived on his wife’s income. When I went to his house, they had a little closet, and a small table, two chairs and a bed, but the walls were full of beautiful art. But he was a very sensitive man and can’t take any humor. He came to my opening at Barbara Gladstone in 1982 and asked if he could have a picture of myself, him and his wife in front of one of my newspaper pieces and I said, sure! But for some reason, my wife couldn’t work the Polaroid. It took ages and she was fiddling with it, I was getting a little annoyed so when she had finally managed to take the picture, I had a crocked smile on my face. Vogel wasn’t impressed, took the photograph and I never saw him again!
The Funeral Of Princess Diana
YoYo showed me a portfolio of his paintings on double pages of the newspaper, which he does on and off, he mostly uses pages of movie ads and fashion, where he undresses the models in painting their clothes away. He says, he brings the photos alive. As you move from one side of the room to another the silver and the gold paint breathes, because the light reflects it differently on every spec. And you can see the painting transform, revealing itself as it inhales and exhales. The more you look at one of YoYo’s paintings the more it speaks to you and communicates its feeling.
New York Times Series from 1977
YoYo started to work on and with the New York Times in the late seventies. From January 1st 1977 he selected daily a page on which he composed a drawing using collage, oil crayon and magic markers. Like a journal, he says.
When I asked YoYo about his relationship with his parents, it was somewhat a difficult question, not for him to answer, but for the emotions it evoked. YoYo paused to swallow a gulp. YoYo’s mother came from German high society. During the war, his mother had to exchange her jewelery for potatoes. My mother saved our lives, she did everything so that we could live. It is a difficult question, if I am close to my parents or not. I thought I can create a family outside my parents but my parents during the war had no time for emotions, they had to try to survive, to keep us alive.
After 40 years in NYC YoYo plays with the idea of leaving. There is a little Sufi village close to Damask, he says. I would like to go there to learn Arabic and to get deeper into Islam. But with the Arabic spring in the air… He is unsure now and thinks he will have to wait.
You will stay for lunch won’t you? Of course YoYo, how could I refuse a home cooked meal? He proceeded to cook for me the most succulent New York Strip, with green beans – sorry about the beans he yelled across the room, they’ve lost some flavour, I’ll add lots of garlic.
YoYo’s used garlic peels for this piece in 2010
The finest New York Strip
He was taken by my interest in his work. And I told him, that I will publish something on my blog and I said “that I can only hope that others will enjoy your work like I do.”
I left YoYo’s apartment with a wealth of life as if I had found and opened a box of treasure, like I had just discovered an unknown place on earth. It was my fate to meet this man, this artist. His story as an artist is not yet finished.
If you have any interest in YoYo’s work, please contact uyen.luu[at]gmail.com