The Art of Mati Klarwein

In my production of the third installment of The Classics – ROCK, I came across Mati Klarwein – an artist responsible for the artwork for one of my all time favorite albums and artists – Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew.”

As I furthered my research I came to learn that Mati led quite a colorful life that mirrored an even more colorful body of artwork whose style and technical ability are still without succinct definition.

In my efforts, I was fortunate to catch up with one of Mati’s sons, Balthazar, who answered some questions regarding his father and his father’s process:

For those that don’t know, who was your father and what were some of his greatest contributions to music?

My father was a painter mostly known for his paintings that where used on various album covers such as Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and Santana’s “Abraxas”.

Can you briefly talk about where he was from and his creative upbringing?

It is hard to label any kind of nationality to Mati because he was more of a nomad, constantly moving through out his life. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1932. His father was a Jewish architect from Poland, and his mother a German opera singer. They emigrated to Jerusalem, then Palestine, when he was about 2 years old because of the rise of the small frustrated man with the black mustache. At the age of 16, his mother decided to leave with him, from the chaotic creation of the state of Israel, and moved to Paris where he studied painting with Fernand Leger. He wrote once: “I am a German Jew with an Arab soul and an African heart”. For me, this is what best describes him and his art. The fact that he signed many paintings with the Arab name “Abdul” together with his Hebrew name “Mati” also explains a lot of things about his character.  FOR MORE CLICK

What kinds of paints (acrylics, oils, etc) did he use?

The majority of his paintings where done with oil paints using the traditional old Flemish Mische technique which he learned from Austrian painter Ernest Fuchs in his early Paris years.

Did he ever use any non-traditional materials to paint with?

Mati was a person who liked to experiment a lot, especially in his later years where he started his “Recycled Paintings” series in the late 70’s and which he followed up to his death in 2002, parallel to his traditional style. He would buy and collect old paintings from street flea markets and thrift stores which interested him and where he thought he could add something more to them. This new method brought him many times to experiment with different materials, from fabrics to wallpapers, all different kinds of paints, photography, etc…

Can you describe what his studio was like?

The studio that I knew him in, his Mallorca studio, up in the mountain where we had a home, was a small stone hut filled with paintings, wooden frames, constant music playing, usually African beats, Cuban, funk or flamenco, and several windows looking over his garden, the mountains and the sea. His working corner usually had two easels that held up different paintings that he would be working on at the time. He would spend around 8-9 hours painting a day, seven days a week.

What were some of his influences and inspirations?

I think his inspiration was life in general.  He was always amazed and very interested in all aspects of nature. But I guess that traveling, music and women were always a big inspiration to him and influenced his work a lot.

You mentioned that you were living in Mallorca, Spain at the time.  Do you think it (Spain) had an effect on his work?  If so, how?

Yes, very much so.  The Malloquin landscape is very present in Mati’s work, that dramatically beautiful Mediterranean rocky coast and the stone terraces where all these very surreal looking olive trees grow on was definitely Mati’s favorite type of landscape. And then there’s that Spanish way of life, warm and laid back that has attracted many artists through out the years.

Your father had a very unique style.  How would you describe it?  Did he have a name for it?
He didn’t really have a name for it, but I would describe it as Ultra detailed Hyperrealist Surrealism, which preceded psychedelic art.

Can you describe his process?

As I said before, he used the old Mische technique, which very few artists used at the time and still hardly use today. The process for painting by Mische (explained briefly) is to first draw it all on the canvas by pencil, then painting it all over again with the whole black & white chromatic scale with casein, which contains egg and minerals, and then painting it all over again with the colored oil paints. So it’s a three layered process. This helps the conservation of the painting and gives them this freshness which makes them seem as they have been just painted.

Did you or any of the family members ever assist him in work?

My brother and I had collaborated with him when we where kids, he used some of our drawings and paintings and framed them together with his work.

When working on a project can you describe what an average day for him would be like?

Well, as I said before, he would work on several projects at the time to not get to saturated, usually a commissioned portrait, a personal painting and then, to give a rest from the intense details of the two last ones, he would work on some of his recycled paintings. It also depended on the day I guess, sometimes he might have only worked on one of these three. But always painting, and if not painting, on the phone to clients, cooking for us, writing ideas and reading.

What kinds of art filled your home?

Our house was filled with all sorts of paintings, objects, photographs, etc… He had a window shrine of funky, weird and funny objects, from animal bones and skulls we would find around the mountain and then paint on, to old plastic toys and beautiful stones.  Then there were paintings which he could never get to recycle or improve because they where too good, things he found in the flea market, photographs he liked or that he had taken that covered the fridge, traditional African musical instruments that where scattered around to play with and then his paintings that because, of a lack of storage space, would be hung on the walls, and would keep on changing depending if he sold them or sent them out to be exhibited.

While working, did he listen to music?  If so, what was he playing?

As I said before, there was constant music playing in my father’s house and in his studio. All types, depending on what he felt like at the moment. While I was growing up it was mainly Cuban and African music, but he would also listen to jazz, funk (lots of James Brown!), Flamenco (Camaron de la Isla),  Rap, Classical and even new sort of electronic and experimental stuff, which he would give to us if it was too much. There were always friends, people and musicians that would send him tapes and CDs for him to listen to. But yeah, lots of Afro-Cuban stuff.

Did he have any creative outlets beyond painting?

Apart from painting my father always tried to express himself in all ways possible. He loved making films and made them throughout his life; photographs, he would also make sculptures by collecting all the junk that accumulated around the house and was hard to, or wasn’t really recyclable. We would call them the “Skluptures“, these large crazy looking bodies that hung around our garden, made from broken bicycle bits, old toys, electronics, barrels, cables, pieces of furniture – just giving junk a new use really, rather than bringing it to the dump yard for it to get burnt or something like that.

Was your father musically inclined?  If so, what instruments did he play?
He played the Spanish guitar and the congas, and always had many instruments in the house for people to jam with.

How long did it usually take him to complete a project?

Well it depended on the size of the painting. But they all took a long time due to all the details that his style consisted of. Some would take him years to finish. I think “Grain of Sand” must have taken him about three years to finish, but always painting other things on the side, like portraits to be able to stay alive.

What were some of his favorite works?

Which ever painting he was working on at the time was his favorite painting, or at least that’s what he would say. And looking back at his own work, well… I don’t know, because he never really talked about his paintings or really credited them in any way, he was quite humble in that way. He didn’t like to talk about himself of his work.

Even though they were paintings first, conceptually do you know where he derived his ideas from for the piece that was selected to be Mile Davis’ “Bitches Brew” cover and Annunciation which became the cover for Santana’s “Abraxas?”

“The Annunciation” was part of his “Aleph Sanctuary” chapel, which was a room with walls made up of a series of paintings describing the different passages of the Bible. All re-interpreted in his own way.  Then Miles Davis and Mati had become friends so he asked him if he could make the cover for his next album. I think he was working on the music at the time and my father must have heard it before painting it. So I am sure that the music of “Bitches Brew” must have influenced his vision of what to paint.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your father and or are there any upcoming exhibitions where people can check out his work?

The two paintings he made for Miles Davis’ album “Live Evil” have just been showing in the Miles Davis show in Paris. The show is now moving to Montreal where it will be showing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, from April 30th to August 29th 2010.

For more info and pics of Mati Klarwein’s work visit


About gmoney77

My name is Gerald Watson and I do lifestyle marketing for various companies/agencies. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the people I work with, the work I do as well as the shit I see on the regular.

Posted on February 25, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ah yes. Those were the days……….

  2. Mati K. one of my favorite artists. Great post. I love the pic of Mati with daughter.
    Found your interesting blog through Google image search for Klarwein’s paintings.

    • glad you like the post. mati was a pretty ill artist and id been familiar with his work for miles davis, so when this opportunity came up he was the first cat that i thought about to interview. and although he’s no longer here his son was cool enough to cover the interview. if you’re into ill visuals and concepts like mati’s check out a project that a friend of mine put together called shaolin jazz. we fused the acappellas from various wu-tang tracks with the instrumentals from various jazz greats. visit to check out the music and our other projects.

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