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Engelbert Kievernagel: I wanted to become nothing absolutely nothing

Kievemagel, a typical outside artist, was much appreciated and admired by his colleagues. He collaborated with artists like Kathe Be, Kain Karawahn, Stefan Roloff, Miron Zownir and many more. To earn money he worked as a help worker, and was also much sought after as a nude model, where he could combine exhibitionistic traits with work.

Born 1928 in Berlin, Kievemagel was 8 years old when he was placed in an orphanage. He regularly wet his bed, screamed and refused to eat and talk, and was transferred to the Karl-Bonhoeffer-clinic. On the 17th of June 1953 while participating in the demonstrations in East-Berlin, he was caught and sentenced to four years in the jail Waldheim. There he spent three years on the psychiatric ward.

In 1957 he moved with his sister to West-Berlin. The difficulties with police, doctors and authorities continued. His first drawings came to decorate the protest letters he sent to departments and government agencies: “I wrote that they shouldn’t always fuck around in the office, and instead take care of my business”. Kievernagel’s exhibitionistic ways provoked and often he was not taken seriously, or people thought he was stupid. But he was clever enough to make use of his craziness, like in the old people’s home, where he lived the last years until his death in 1987. The bitchy old ladies, as he called them, use to read each others magazines, and placed them underneath the doors when exchanging them: “I stuffed my gay and porn magazines beneath the doors as well”.

In 1981 he tried to improve his unsustainable and critical financial situation with a series of extortion letters. He wa sentenced to a yet another psychiatric clinic. The verdict read: “Psycho-sexuelly he is on the same level of development as a child. Severe disturbances in the behavioral pattern, inflicted during child hood, have lead to isolation and withdrawal the surroundings, limited critical and judgment skills and a general detachment from reality”.

In the same year he was diagnosed with cancer; when he was supposed to undergo a second operation, Kievernagel left the hospital and refused medical treatment. The pains followed he took without complains. At the same time he started to draw intensively; until his death he produced hundreds of works, mainly with ball-point pen, color pens and felt-tip pens on DINA4 size type writer paper, and later on DIN Al sized drawing paper. He always gave away the drawings. Because extreme fantasies and anarchistic preferences most of his never received any attention.

Despite the fascination with the Valley of Sins, like the title of his drawings, Engelbert was a religiously devout. He and left several churches within the course of his life. In a documentary film from 1987, made by Kain Karawahn, Kievemagel answers the question regarding what he wanted to become: “Nothing, nothing… I wanted to become nothing absolutely nothing”. Engelbert Kievemagel was not only a Kreuzberg original, but also one of the few artists, where the struggle for unity between life and work had distinctive consequences.

Reinhard Scheibner, Berlin, August 21th. 2006. ✪