Matí Klarwein is Dreaming Light

“I’m going to turn into a dream and then you’ll be in real trouble”


On the morning of March 7th, 2002, Abdul Matí Klarwein passed away in his sleep, from his home in Deia, on the island of Mallorca, Spain.

photo courtesy the Klarwein family

“I painted psychedelically before I took psychedelics…”

Matí became a mentor in my head as soon as I first saw his work. He painted impossibly, beyond what I’d ever imagined one could do in an image—blending styles of the Flemish masters, spectacular Islamic patterns, Indian tantric arts, cartoons, Hebrew, and talismans, to start. He changed his name to Abdul Matí because he said Jews should take an Arab name, and vice versa. He painted Santana’s Abraxas and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew albums, along with work for Buddy Miles, Jerry Garcia, and The Last Poets: surreal, swirling grasses, fire skies, dots, terraces, panoramic orgies, meteors, and beautiful bodies with stars falling from their hair.

I wrote to him once, sent him some of my work. He replied that he liked it “a lot, except for the big Joni Mitchel face with the guitar and a stiff upper lip and a mean look. Putting famous people into your work will not improve your art… paint the environment around you first before you branch out into ‘Cosmic’ statements…” I was chastened. And I was stoked. Under the date of his letter, February 2001, he signed: “NO RUSH!”

It’s not even Joni Mitchel, but it is a big Joni Mitchel face with a stiff lip and a mean look.

Matí was a friend of the family of a friend. I’d always hoped to go to Spain to visit him, to see where he lived and worked, and maybe rub the buddha’s belly. On September 6th, 2001 I flew to Barcelona. For days I kept putting off contacting him, until I thought I was ready… on the 11th. That morning, my call was postponed. But two weeks later I called Matí from a payphone outside the Dalí museum in Figueres. And with a bag of wild rice I had picked up from our mutual fam in New York, I was invited to his home to deliver it.

A pilgrimage to my Master. A cliché, just like Matí had done before me, to his kooky friend Salvador Dalí. Matí said the first time he approached the artist, he arrived outside his home and just kind of looked at the door. He had a fantasy, like everyone before him, that El Maestro would see the student’s work and declare him an heir apparent. But Matí never got the guts to knock, and left.

He did later meet Dalí, when Matí was living in New York doing work for Miles, Hendrix (“so shy..”), and Timothy Leary, among others. Matí described Salvador to me as very selfish, yet generous, supersexual, and assexual. He said he’d seen Dalí masturbate over a cantaloupe, with a limp penis, ejaculating while crying, “Oh Divine Sperm!”

“Dalí, Fish, Maiden, Dalí, Pickle” illustration by the author

Matí was born in Germany in 1932 and grew up in Palestine after his parents fled the Nazis. Maybe living through that and further world experience gave him a jaded feel on the U.S. events from which I was reeling. His response to my paranoia supreme and apocalyptic musing was something like a weary nod. As he wrote in his 1976 book, God Jokes: “The end of the world is very near. So take your time.”

Jesse and Matí - Mallorca, Spain, 2001

When I visited him, he lived a ten minute hike from the main road, up a winding sandy path with twisted olive trees and a white mare who ate apples from the hands of my friend Jesse and myself. Matí joked that his daily walk helped his lungs handle a joint every once in a while. His house was rented from a writer, his battered Mercedes was a barter for a painting. And the view from it all was over goat-treaded hills looking out to the ocean.

Inside he had a collection of African and Flamenco Cds and a humble art collection. There was a simple thrift store portrait of a Spanish gentleman that Matí was in awe of, along with a few Ethiopian prints in cheap frames.

One windowsill was set up as a collectibles and deities shrine, completely run over with cobwebs.

“I let the spiders build their webs there, that way they stay out of everything else,” he said.

There was also a fingerpainted Picasso hanging off-kilter next to a drawing signed “Salvador.” I held my breath, but it wasn’t the D; it was Matí’s son, fulfilling a tradition of naming a son the name of your favorite painter.

He didn’t know where much of his work was. “Crucifixion” was there. Awesome, massive, interracial intersexual buggery. Matí said it even still had recently shut down a Madrid gallery. He let us look through paintings propped against the wall of his living room. “Dakar Angel” was there. Plus a new one he was working on, one of his “improved paintings” (thrift store paintings that he took into his studio and…“improved”) with an alarm clock sticking out of the canvas.

“Crucifixion” by Matí Klarwein / photo by the author

He made me laugh when he said that he used to draw beautiful naked women, and now he drew rocks. “I have noticed that I am lately becoming what in my earlier and silly years I would have qualified as rather silly.”

Pictures of his children and grandchildren on his fridge, daily drives to town, painting in the afternoon. He received other pilgrims once in a while too. There were two skateboards left for his sons by two American pros who had come by months before. Matí let Jesse and I skate them down the snaky highway to Deia central.

skate photos by Jesse Kiendl

It was a magical, restorative respite from the chaos I thought about back home in NY.

Thank you for your hospitality, Matí.

Abdul Matí Klarwein - Mallorca, Spain, 2001

Ricardo Cortés is an author & illustrator of books, including Go the Fuck to Sleep, It’s Just a Plant, and A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola.

Rmcortes.com

2001