Johannes Matthiessen – artist of the earth. An obituary

Christof Wiechert

After an hour’s conversation with Johannes one might be truly exhausted but he burned with enthusiasm to bring people together, heal the historical wounds which afflict the earth and to do the same for young people whose destiny has placed too great obstacles in their path.

Thus one could see Johannes working artistically with prisoners, convey to apprentices in large industrial enterprises their missing general education by way of art, and teach in Waldorf upper schools.

But the confines of the school were too narrow for his soul and so his work in the world began. In places where people and the earth had suffered damage on or with one another he acted to heal symbolically and in reality. Be it that he planted the streets in a dilapidated Polish industrial town with trees, be it that he transformed the razed houses in an American city into green play areas for children, be it that he gave the Aborigines around Ayers Rock in the heart or Australia the prospect of an existence in human dignity through stonemasonry work or that in Greece, where terrible things had happened to people and the earth in the Second World War, he set up steles like memorials in the landscape. These menhir-like stones displayed wonderful, sculpted form drawings. He did all of these things with local young people, Waldorf pupils or students, everyone who happened to be available.

All these actions were organised and also financed by him. Alongside his artistry, or perhaps because of it, he had the ability to win over mayors, senators, in short the local authorities, to support these real and symbolic actions – actions which promised to regenerate both the soul and the landscape.

So it can be very moving to see monoliths erected as “symbols” in China at the school in Chengdu, but also at a smaller school in Hamburg-Bergedorf or in Bad Kleinkirchheim in Austria or in Chicago and New Orleans. The places are too numerous to list them all. The purely physical work is immense. And as so often happens with great artists: it is only posterity which will learn to wonder at what was achieved and done.

His last great project was when he fell ill with cancer. He accepted it, went through all its stages and the attempts to cure it with all the methods known to modern medicine, faithfully rendering account of it in a number of books with large-scale drawings which bring to expression what such an illness does to body and soul. In late summer he consciously crossed the threshold.