Cologne cathedral in morning sun

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

I had a great 3 day getaway last week in Cologne. I  went specifically for the centennial  recreation of the 1912 “Sonderbund Exhibition”-  ‘the single most important presentation of European Modernism’. Artists including Cézanne, Gauguin, Macke, Munch, Nolde, Picasso, Schiele, Signac and van Gogh were represented; and the Wallraf-Richartz museum has re-collected many of these Post Impressionist and Expressionist masterpieces from all over the world to recreate the original exhibition.

It was impressive, but I found the entourage cold and unwelcoming. And this affected my enjoyment of the paintings. I was actually glad to leave.

On the other hand, I accidentally bumped into the David Hockney ‘Big Picture’ show at the gorgeous modern Museum Ludwig, which had been originally shown at the Royal Academy, and this was worth the whole trip.  Hockney doesn’t permit unauthorised reproduction of his paintings, so I don’t have any images, but you can Google some.

The show was a total immersion experience in the art and life of this artist of stature. I’ve always liked Hockney’s work, but these huge composite canvasses of as many as 18 paintings making up one whole wall of landscape were just awe inspiring. It was a privilege just to see this work. I wish I had had another day, because room after room of paintings, watercolours, sketchbooks, videos showing him at work, videos showing a changing landscape, and more, were too much to take in on one visit. It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.

I left the museum totally inspired. There is so much passion in his work, I feel an urgency there, that he knows he’s getting older and he still has so much- so very much to say. Being exposed to the collected works of someone like that works a magic in the viewer. The pure dedication, passion and mastery force one to ask,’What am I dedicated to in the same way?’, and ‘Am I using my time well to honour this?’. I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and the conviction that painting as a path is overflowing with meaning. That it is a worthy way to love the world and truly partake in this amazing dance of life.

market at night

Christmas market at night

Then there were the wonderful Christmas markets where people stood around socialising, with mulled wine and deep fried potato latkes bought from the stalls.  And the many Christmas wares for sale. The last picture is of a sweet breakfast café called Yummy, where you could put together your breakfast muesli from a bar with about 30 different cereals and toppings. It was very crafty and cute with great food.

I stayed at a fantastic new hostel around the corner from there. Check it out if you ever want to go to Cologne, a friendly, richly cultural city which I would highly recommend visiting.


Market stall Christmas market


‘Yummy’ muesli bar

This is the second article in the Artists Who Care series.

Milenko             Photo by Hannah Hess

The first and second parts of this article introduce Milenko and his current work, based on material found on his site and a number of online interviews. (Sources given at the end of the article.)
The third and fourth parts are an interview.

Sarah’s introduction to this series of articles

I believe that art is so much more than a commodity to hang on walls, and that the artist’s function in this society goes beyond making products to sell. Rather it is vital and transformative, and added to initiatives in other disciplines, can contribute to healing our broken society.  An increasing number of creative people are working as activists in bringing societal change through community building, consciousness raising, and other activities which directly and positively impact individuals and their communities.

I want to highlight some of them here because a lot of this activity is ‘below the radar’, ie not picked up by the media. And all these initiatives together form a surge that is growing, powerful and important.

So I’m happy to be able to devote several posts to the work of Milenko Matanovic. He has been gracious with his time and cooperation for this article and I feel what he has achieved is so worthwhile and important, I’d like to share it as widely as possible. So please feel free to tweet and Facebook copiously!!! There is enormous potential in us as artists and anyone working with creative processes to really make a positive difference. We just need alternative models, and they are out there for sure.

Milenko Matanovic    Building community through art

Recently completed 10 day project, a gathering place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama- built in part with debris from a tornado which did a lot of damage to the city last year. Photo by Hannah Hess

Showing walkway with tiles made by volunteers from the community. Photo by Hannah Hess

I first met Milenko Matanovic

during a conference at Findhorn Community where I was living at the time. He was an all-round artist: singing, performing, and lecturing on art as a transformative force in the society.

His book, Lightworks, Explorations in Art, Culture, and Creativity, was published in 1985, and is still highly relevant. It is a collection of interviews with creative people of stature from a number of different backgrounds, including Suzi Gablik, John Todd, Madeleine L ‘Engle, Matthew Fox, Ellen Burstyn, Philip Glass and others.
What this diverse group of philosophers, historians, educators, and artists has in common is the conviction that the arts are crucial to cultural change and can provide solutions to the many complex problems facing our world.

I came across Milenko’s work again recently on YouTube in a video where he was speaking about art as a mode of community building, and that led to this article.

Milenko began as a conceptual artist in his home in Slovenia (formerly a republic of Yugoslavia) as a member of the celebrated OHO group. Even as his success as an artist grew, he became increasingly disillusioned with the separation of modern art from everyday concerns.

Walking out of a museum one day where an installation of his work was featured, Milenko experienced a crucial tipping point. He was so struck with the dissonance between the interior of the museum and the world outside that he literally walked away from his career as an artist.

This launched a period of re-evaluation that took him out of the conventional art world for 15 years. At the end of that period, he emerged dedicated to exploring ways to practice his art that would positively impact the world.

In 1986, he started a non-profit organization called Pomegranate Center.


I founded Pomegranate Center to connect community participation with art, education, and the environment because I felt that separating them into exclusive compartments was no longer productive.

By integrating art into the fabric of the community, Pomegranate Center gets people involved in creating gathering places in their neighborhoods.

To get an idea of how Milenko’s projects work and what they look like, see the video mentioned above and the Pomegranate site.

The projects themselves are inspiring and worth devoting an entire article to. But I’ve chosen here to highlight another area of his work, without which none of those projects would have even got off the ground.

This area concerns the question that inevitably comes up in any project involving the creative process, ‘How do you balance the vision with the practical side?’ And more importantly, ‘How do you manage a diverse group in such a way that the strongest idealists and realists don’t get stuck in conflicts and end up sabotaging the whole project?’

Milenko calls this, ‘Managing tensions,’ and agrees that is usually the most challenging part of any project.

continued in Part 2