Aris Kalaizis

I am not a tourist guide

A short inter­view between Erhard Metz from the Frank­furt Feuil­leton and Aris Kala­izis about the ori­gin of the Bartho­lomew-paint­ing as well as the present­a­tion in the Frank­furt cathedral

Friend and model: Joe Steffen Thier as Bartholomew in the studio with artificial skin before painting
Friend and model: Joe Steffen Thier as Bartholomew in the studio with artificial skin before painting

Metz: How did the idea of paint­ing the legend of Bartho­lomew the Apostle come about?

Kala­izis: It happened fairly early on, dur­ing my exhib­i­tion at Frank­furt Cathed­ral Museum in 2014. Pro­fess­or August Heuser gave me a tour of the nave. Over cof­fee after­wards, he asked me half-ser­i­ously wheth­er I could ima­gine paint­ing St Bartho­lomew. Later on, this light-hearted sug­ges­tion turned into a ser­i­ous venture.
M: What happened next? 

K: When things took shape much later, I told him that I wasn’t a tour guide who could object­ively show places from times past without adding my own take. Even his­tor­ic­al mater­i­al like this needs to be updated and depic­ted in the realms of eschat­o­logy. I told him that if I could trans­late the story into the mod­ern era in a man­ner show­ing both my time and the church in its time, I could well ima­gine telling the legend of St Bartholomew.

M: Doesn’t this approach clash with an insti­tu­tion that regards itself as a guard­i­an of the past?

K: Undoubtedly. Even so, I’m optim­ist­ic. My con­fid­ence stems from my encounter with the indi­vidu­al. Let’s see what hap­pens when my paint­ing is dis­played in Frank­furt Cathed­ral Museum. Let’s see how the Dean of Frank­furt reacts to it – not to men­tion the people of Frankfurt.

M: Were you famil­i­ar with the legend of Bartho­lomew the Apostle?

K: Yes, very much so. After all, I’m a fan of Stefan Loch­ner and an even big­ger fan of Span­ish Baroque. I’ve always been a great admirer of Jusepe de Ribera’s tre­mend­ous paint­ings. When I decided to paint this pic­ture, there were two prob­lems to be over­come: the old magic, which really doesn’t need to be shown again, and the dif­fi­culty of deal­ing with his­tor­ic­al char­ac­ters. It’s a tricky area because it’s hard to avoid slip­ping into glor­i­fic­a­tion or even trans­fig­ur­a­tion. Like in my paint­ing of the Pope entitled ‘make/​believe’, I was inter­ested in find­ing a third way – an approach for those seek­ing oth­er pos­sib­il­it­ies without over-hasty rejec­tion or approv­al. But there was anoth­er import­ant reas­on for tack­ling the paint­ing of St Bartho­lomew: to use paint­ing to counter the lack of a sense of his­tory nowadays. St Bartho­lomew seemed ideal for this purpose.

M: Were you inspired by any paint­ings inside Frank­furt Cathed­ral, such as the one by Onghers?

K: No, Onghers didn’t interest me in the slight­est. There are all sorts of wild stor­ies about the ways in which St Bartho­lomew was tor­tured and killed. I approached the sub­ject under the premise of cre­at­ing an ulti­mately form­ally com­pel­ling pic­ture. Without this in mind as a paint­er, you might as well not both­er. Wheth­er the accounts which have come down to us are help­ful or not or his­tor­ic­ally accur­ate was sec­ond­ary to me. It was far more import­ant from the out­set to paint the mar­tyr­dom of Bartho­lomew as con­vin­cingly as pos­sible, as if it could only have happened in this and no oth­er way.

M: Is there a con­nec­tion between your paint­ing of St Bartho­lomew and your own biography?

K: Of course. My life story is closely inter­woven with the pro­duc­tion of my paint­ings. I always com­bine a great deal with my pic­tures. You might say I live my paint­ings. I don’t have sev­er­al pic­tures on the go in my stu­dio. There’s always just the one can­vas – and that’s the one on my easel. You can see from this that I feel the urge to to devel­op an intens­ive, almost con­tem­plat­ive rela­tion­ship with the pic­ture I have in mind in order to be able to work on my level. And that’s also to be seen in my life. I don’t gain much from chat­ting to people here and there. But I do gain an awful lot when the famili­ar­ity of one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion leads to some­thing like a rev­el­a­tion. This gives me plenty of energy for my daily life. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca put it: “To be every­where is to be nowhere.”

Erhard Metz was born in North Hesse in 1944 and worked for the ARD con­sor­ti­um of pub­lic broad­casters in Ger­many. After retir­ing as ARD’s dir­ect­or of radio, he launched the arts portal ‘Feuil­leton­Fran­k­furt’ (

© Aris Kalaizis 2024