by sarahartonsherkin



Katya Berger’s opening paragraph of a dialogue by post between herself and her father:

“As long as I can remember, I have been used to looking at paintings. Without any fuss, a monograph on Carvaggio or the catalogue of a Poussin exhibition was dumped on my knees, and I was left alone to turn the pages. By a flaring paraffin lamp – this was in a decrepit, out-of-the-way farmhouse in Provence where I spent the most luminous moments of my childhood – I started, as I looked at these books, to dream – a bit like one of those figures in a Chagall painting crossing the sky above the roofs of churches.”




This is a wonderful little book that discusses animals, Greece, fur, sexuality, and the strangeness of drawing. Insights about life, physical sensation and mortality are listened to with great attention.

“I invented a god who lived in the sky, surrounded by a committee who were timeless and who looked through a telescope to direct the story of my life!”

The old man Katya meets at the exhibition says, “one uses painting to clothe oneself, to keep warm… Jesus carries his cross and, me, I carry the art of painting, I wear it like something woollen”, and later adds, “you must surely see, velvet, you must see, velvet is my favourite material, and I can’t resist its touch.”



Of animals Katya says, “we can identify with them so deeply. They are just close enough and just far enough for it to be easy. They are the other, a little more the other than another person. And so they’re easier to understand; they demand imagination, aim, identification, whereas people demand intelligence, mental calculation, abstractions. And the meaner the human world becomes – the more people slip into egoism and the greed of despair – the more the animals align themselves with us, becoming brothers, closer than our human brothers. In fact, when this happens, even nature, even the inorganic, offers a shelter to our imaginations. Nature comes closer, just as those who are called the closest become more distant.”

Of intimacy: “To be intimate is to re-find in oneself that which is most hidden and private; intimacy can also imply a marvellous, narrow relationship between two people. To be intimate is a way of listening to one’s internal sense, of listening to one’s own dialogue between the said and the unsaid. The second jubilant intimacy, the one which is (occasionally) shared, implies two listenings, two dialogues which overlap and couple… such intimacy is the sine qua non for any INVITATION, whether it concerns art or bodies or (probably) souls. And without the first – intimacy with oneself – no other is possible… the late paintings of Titian are, I’m sure, the fruits of an individual intimacy. For him, whatever his disguise, for him, the man of power, the intimacy of feeding his art came from keeping in touch with his own truth.”

Of Greece: “The earth, the sea, and the sky have shared out their empire. Old men stroll in pyjamas along the filthy street. Every evening, from the balcony opposite mine, comes semi-oriental music for the whole neighbourhood! The same dust is everywhere. Everybody talks like a mother to a child. Tummy rumblings are something universal. People recognise one another, not in accordance with any particular respect due, but in accordance with the common reality of their human bodies.

“Each body is one body among others and equal with them. If someone comes forward, it is usually to represent the others – like the coryphaeus of an antique chorus. This lack of politeness and civility, which so shocks foreigners, comes directly from a notion of democracy first formulated in ancient Greece. Why bother with formal gestures and hypocritical compliments when everyone is familiar with the needs, the feelings, and the thoughts of everyone else? All are part of the same chain, and each is potentially in the skin of another. When people act selfishly, they do so allowing for the selfishness of others.

“Greeks start from the principle that they know themselves (not with their brains, like the French, but because they’ve lived). Armed with Socratic sayings, they extend their knowledge towards others. They go out to meet the outside because they’ve come to terms with what’s inside.

They have no need to make themselves pretty or to wrap things up: the polite bows, the fashionable clothes, all forms of dressing up here have been imported or artificially brought in by the Church or the powers that be. Otherwise, the Greeks’ awareness of their own collectivity encourages a unique minimalism, to be seen in their buildings, in their cooking (the butchers simply display dead flesh), and in their everyday philosophy. The very complexity of life is simple for them. Everything is in everything. Their vases communicate.”

And of Titian: ” Thus the timeless old man of the south was so faithful to his own instinct and senses that he brushed the world as if it belonged to him – as if it was his own beard.


Ecce Homo



John sends ‘Kut’ a postcard from the island of Telos, dated 327 BC. The poem is signed by Erinna, who died when she was nineteen.


john's poem