My self portrait can be entitled: “Liberation from Isolation” or “Breaking the Walls of Silence”.
With this self portrait, I would like to introduce myself to you, dear reader. My name is Dieter Fricke. I was born in Borken near Kassel, Germany, on November 3rd 1943. At the age of nine month, Meningitis destroyed my hearing nerves. Since then I have been deaf. At the age of seven, I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Homberg, district of Kassel. When my family moved to Frankfurt / Main, I voluntarily graduated from the 9th grade at the School for the Deaf in Friedberg. From 1960 to 1963, I had an apprenticeship at the Druckgusswerk (pressure cast works) Rhine-Main in Frankfurt / Main, learning the profession of an engineering draftsman. I worked in this profession until 1998, however changing my job several times for different reasons. Last and also longest, I was employed by the company Hoechst AG in Frankfurt / Main.
At preschool age, my conversations within my family were restricted to some gestures and signs describing vital necessities such as “eat” or “sleep”. My mother used to speak much too fast, my father tried to support his words by gestures. Within my family, it sometimes happened that I became aggressive, whenever I felt misunderstood. As a child, I had the impression that my mother preferred my 5-year younger brother and sister (twins). All in all, I sensed my life at home was a sad one for a long time. I felt like I was imprisoned, because I noticed that I was different from hearing children. I tried to get in touch with hearing children. But whenever I noticed them withdrawing from me because I was different, I often reacted aggressively.
In school, I quickly understood that I was among children who were deaf just as I was. Thus for the first time, I entered a community of people who were not remarkably different from myself. I did not stick out from the other children anymore. I did not need to defend myself aggressively anymore. I sensed I would be understood here. Speaking only in sign language was forbidden in school; however, we were allowed to use signs supporting the spoken language. Since being a student, I have always been anxious to learn as much as possible and question all kinds of things. Without wishing to show off, I can state that I was always the first in class. Often there were situations in which I had to assist my teachers in explaining things to my classmates in sign language.
During my apprenticeship, I attended a vocational school for hearing. In this school, I could not communicate in sign language any longer. I had to cope with the situation all by myself. I had to concentrate hard to follow the lessons, which meant hard work for me. Fortunately, there was an intelligent and helpful classmate assisting me with studying, so I was able to graduate from vocational school successfully.
In my various jobs, I mainly had to deal with hearing colleagues, again. As I have always been anxious to approach my fellow human beings, I used to feel accepted by my colleagues and integrated in the team.
In June 1968, I got married to Margit Schneider from Floersheim / Main. My wife is deaf, too. Together with her deaf younger brother she attended the School for the Deaf in Bad Camberg. Unfortunately, our marriage has remained childless. We live in our pretty single family house in the Floersheimer district of Wicker.
Sometimes I quarrel with my destiny of being deaf and missing so many things in interpersonal life. But thanks to the love of my life-affirming, optimistic, and courage-spreading wife, I made my way out of the isolation of my handicap. My wife strongly supports my artistic activities.
I made my first painting attempts in 1965. Being deaf, I was not given the chance to graduate from university, as there were no high schools for the Deaf in Germany at that time. So I studied independently, completing painting classes at the community college and successfully graduating from a home study course at the Famous Artists School International (1966 – 1972).
During the following years, I concentrated on realistic paintings. Sceneries and still lifes were my favorite motifs. However, after some time, I got bored, missing new challenges. Working on the last painting of this kind, an oversized still life, I was close to collapsing with a nervous breakdown. I felt like I was being smashed to the ground and was about to throw away my paints and brushes. After this, I interrupted my artistic activities from 1978 to 1983.
After this break of 5 years, during which our house in Wicker was built, I made a new start. Most of my works became abstract. My creative ideas were partly conscious, partly spontaneous. I slowly developed my own typical technique of producing art objects, namely the work with clean waste plastic, cast steel and plastic chips. I process these objects using acrylic colors, oil paints and Metallic felt-tips. After drying, I also apply gold leaf, silver, brass or copper. I use this process with hanging objects as well as standing objects. Another technique I use is transforming cast iron, which I wrap in gauze-stripes, thus creating movable objects. In 1985, during a time of finding myself, I discovered the smaller formats of paintings, which I provide with light-copying adhesive strips and afterwards spray with acrylic color. I may also use dispersion pastel colors and oil pastel colors. Seemingly at random, I create lines on the paper, which only bit by bit grow together to form a motive. Detailed corrections forbid themselves within this “rapid” painting technique. Instead, I produce several versions of each motive, always testing new compositions.
In this creative work, I found a balance to my everyday life, in which there seem to be some barriers because of my handicap. These barriers, the handicap-caused isolation, the life under a glass bell, have always been painfully conscious for me. But through my creative work I succeeded in gaining my internal freedom.
My greatest longing, communicating with my fellow human beings, is now becoming a reality through the aids I create; my paintings, sculptures, prints, etchings, ceramics, wooden sculptures, photography and video art. I encourage my fellow human beings to visual communication with me. I have found my way to remove the “Bell of Isolation” from my life; I have recognized the source of my being, which is my work as an artist, bubbling and flowing outside by means my works.
In 1988, on the occasion of the inauguration of my exhibition, one of my acquaintances, Mr. Guenther Zimmermann, who is working on communication and media, stated: “ Words are powerful – being without words means being powerless, helpless, dependent … “ Is there a better way to describe the difference between hearing and deaf persons (who are thus also handicapped with regard to the spoken language)? I can hardly imagine. There are times, when I feel helpless in the hearing world. But my artistic work gives me liberty, self-confidence and joy. I am fascinated by the original power of the undiscovered shapes originating by chance. Now, my life and work form a unity.
But as we all know, we human beings do not live by ourselves. We need and seek a community, communication with each other. Especially because of my handicap, I have recognized that real communication among different people can only be achieved by true love and tolerance. In this regard, it makes no difference whether they are deaf, as my wife and myself, handicapped in any other way or not handicapped. Only if you are honest and tolerant, only if you are loving, are you able to communicate with others in a peaceful and fruitful way. After having found myself, I am now interested in other people’s problems, especially in those of my fellow deaf persons. Often I notice the restricted, isolated life “under the bell”, the helplessness of missing words, the resignation of deaf people, their fear of contacting hearing people, and their paralyzing distrust of the hearing world. I understand one of my tasks is acting as a mediator between the hearing world and the deaf world. In my works of art I succeeded in fulfilling and liberating myself. My works of art enable me to communicate with my fellow human beings, hearing as well as deaf. Through my works of art I want to set an example to my fellow deaf persons that a handicap like ours need not necessarily lead to isolation, as long as we meet our fellow human beings with respect and trust. For the hearing people, I want to set an example of how deaf and hearing impaired persons can say a lot without many words. The only condition is that you are willing to understand our way of communication, sign language, and grant us our language in each situation. Moreover, I want to encourage my fellow hearing persons to look at the problems of our invisible handicap and develop understanding for us deaf people. In the eighties, my work concentrated on the problems of deafness, revealing them in my paintings. Some of my paintings show the significance of sign language and the finger alphabet as the most important means of communication for deaf and hard of hearing people. I call my current paintings “abstracts about sign-language” works of art The matching quotes, are means to express my own thoughts about the sense of human life, understanding the relationships between people or circumstances. Using dark colors I paint everything associated with grief, pain and fear. I use neutral colors to show everyday events. Light, clear colors stand for happiness, clarity, vitality; and black on white signifies truth. Dieter Fricke