Meeting ‘Sara Moon’
The story behind my admiration for the art of Sara Moon, my long search to find this very illusive artist and my huge surprise when my quest was accomplished.
John D Moulton
Fellow Artist & Friend.
It’s 09:25. Tuesday, February 20th 2006. I’m sitting in a hotel lobby awaiting the arrival of Thomas Laukamm, a new friend of mine and close friend of an artist I couldn’t quite believe I was about to meet. I pondered the journey that had brought me to this place, just a few miles from Cologne International Airport and many hundreds of miles from my home.
Old Beginnings …
The first steps had been taken some thirty years before – the ones that had taken me (as a young furniture manufacturer’s representative) to a retail outlet in Derbyshire, England, suited and booted and briefcase in hand. Moments later would come my first glimpse Sara Moon.
‘Lisa’ and ‘Jennifer’ hung as a pair, facing me as I waited for the buyer to arrive. My presentation and concentration were tested to the full as my mind switch between business-in-hand and my determination NOT to forget to purchase these two images before I left the store.
Those moments had been the beginning of something very special for me. My admiration for the simple intensity of those eyes within an image so easily fading to oblivion before any true boundaries were met.
The style had me reaching for my pencils and brushes for the first time in years. I failed and succeeded in equal measure, but never did I reach such elegant competence.
Then, in a greeting’s card shop, ‘Sara’ and ‘Hippy Girl’ called to me from a card carousel. My heart skipped a beat – or was it three? – These images took Sara Moon to new heights – then ‘Rocker Girl’ and ‘German Girl’ had me in a tussle of admiration and utter frustration – the eyes, the pose, the detail! And yet STILL the images denied anything close to defined boundaries. For a long time I allowed myself to believe there was no point to trying to reach such levels of achievement. I had no time, no belief and far too little talent to reach such dizzy altitudes.
Then came Catherine and Rebecca. Simplicity in images that gave me belief again. It was these two images that inspired me to create my “Gypsy” and though I failed to render such simplicity (again!) she spurred me on to many things anew.
My art flourished to a basic competence – sufficient for family and friends to request I hang my work within a website, so that they could have access to them at any time they wished. This I did with great reluctance. And once the galleries were there, I felt a need to justify there existence, the most critical element of which to this story was to included galleries dedicated to images that inspired me to create and works by the artists I most admired. A dedication to Sara Moon was a must, and creating it reminded me just how long it had been since I had seen anything new.
I searched the Internet and was unable to believe there was nothing there at all! This compelled me to head the gallery with the words “WHERE ARE YOU SARA?” and for two years nothing came. Then an email from a visitor to the site alerted me to a new Yahoo Group formed by world-wide fans of Sara Moon. I eagerly joined only to find that everything known was rumour and conjecture: The strongest belief was that Sara Moon was actually an Iranian male, who, when all of his art had been destroyed by fire, had gone to live in Germany as a recluse and could not be found. Approaches to Verkerke resulted in dismissive responses and Red Baron no longer existed. Further alerts and questioning statements were posted around the Internet, begging ANYONE who knew ANYTHING to come forward and tell their story. Beyond more rumours, NOTHING happened for years
During that time, Torill Nyhuus, who had started the Yahoo Group became unable to continue and asked if anyone could take over group management. The post fell to me, and the quest for Sara continued both within the group and through my website. Eventually I decided that this structure was not enough and I created a dedicated Sara Moon website into which everything that was known or speculated could be posted and the pleas for information could be the stronger.
For a while, gathering everything together created more confusion than clarity. Studying images, dates and signatures just added to the mystery. Styles of work and signatures varied so much that I became convinced that there were probably THREE “Sara Moon’s” at work here and therefore MAYBE, there had never been a real Sara Moon at all, just a group of artists contracted to create commercial images under the brand “Sara Moon”. I dared to put the supposition forward on the site, in the hope such an assertion would drive those who knew differently to come forward — Still nothing happened for a long time.
New Beginnings …
So, when the day came that I received my first email from Thomas Laukamm, I just didn’t know how to respond. Here at last was someone with an excellent command of the English language telling me he considered himself Bijan’s best friend …
… and with that,
a new chapter unfolds …
Thomas and I communicate a while and he tells me how he had come across the Sara Moon website. How Bijan has no computer or email address and doesn’t want them. He told me he had shared the site and the Yahoo Group with Bijan on a recent visit and how much Bijan had enjoyed seeing his work there and of how he had no idea anyone remembered his work at all. Bijan had been very hunble about it all and expressed a desire to meet with me to say thank you. At first there was talk of Thomas and Bijan making a trip to London and us arranging meeting in a hotel somewhere, but then the proposed venue changed – Bijan had invited me on an all-expenses paid trip to meet him and his wife at their home and tour his studio! It would be impossible for me to describe how I felt about such a possibility. Could this ever become a reality?
Some weeks later, I’m sitting in the lobby of a Cologne Hotel, tucked away in a corner close to the main entrance. Through the door Thomas strides as any confident businessman would – Stretching out his hand he announces himself as Thomas Laukamm to a gentleman sitting beyond me. “Thomas!” I called from behind him. He turns, we laugh, and so we meet at last with broad smiles.
The journey begins. Both of us aware that a two and a half-hour-long journey south faced us, I would guess we were both a little nervous at just how we would fill the time. Neither need have worried, with the life and times of Sara Moon to discuss and the whole business world to put to rights between times, there was never a dull moment. Through blue skies, fog and heavy snow we drove and Thomas talked of Bijan’s youth. How Bijan’s Father had wanted him to study medicine, but Bijan was drawn to textiles and design, creating many successful patterns. But his first love was always his art and he was eventually commissioned by Red Baron to create the first sixteen of the now famous Sara Moon images. International recognition was soon his.
We arrived in Bijan’s hometown just about on schedule. Soon we were pulling up outside his house. An attractive white (seemingly) single story building on a sloping site. A pristine sign on the wall reads “Sara Moon Studio … “ I shook my head a little, still not quite able to believe I was hear, at Bijan’s front door.
We climbed the few steps and as we reached the doorbell a car door thumped shut behind us. We both turned. It was Bijan, just back from a little grocery shopping.
Meet Bijan: ‘Sara Moon’
He called a hearty greeting. Thomas descended the steps again and the two embrace with fond words and many slaps of the back. Then Bijan turned to me; arms open wide – warm hugs were mine too.
He indicated we should go indoors and that he would join us in a moment. Bijan’s wife Christel greets us, a glamorous lady with a beautiful smile welcomes us into her home. She is of German birth and though she speaks no English, I understand her Iranian tongue to be so eloquent it once gained her a position as a radio broadcaster there. She beckons me through to their living quarters, a lounge I would guess to be some 30 feet by 18 in size. Its décor looks French Colonial to me with its ornate furnishings, embellished with alabaster and bronze figurines. The walls are a virtual history of Bijan’s artistic life, though all but one that I could see were new to me.
To say I was overwhelmed would be a gross understatement as I tried to absorb the many creations that surrounded me, many looking down upon me through eyes that gazed gently with a warmth so typical of Bijan’s hand. A familiar figure caught my eye, ‘The Thinker’ we call her and then another, so new and yet now familiar as that which has become the April image in our new dateless calendar. Beyond ‘The Thinker’, none of these images conformed to the style so typical of that we know as Sara Moon, yet most bore the familiar sweeping signature that adorned all of the later published works.
Bijan brought through his shopping bags. He loves to cook, but today Christel would manage the kitchen – there was so much to say and do. Again he takes my hand, embracing me as he may a trusted friend, his eyes full of nervous excitement, his smile a warm delight. He beckons me to sit with him, pointing to the white leather sofa beneath a huge brightly-coloured creation: Three model ladies seated on one sofa in three gracious poses that indicate total oblivion to each other and to the viewers gaze. Each in colours so different to the next as to suggested almost that they were occupying the same space in parallel universes, together, separately, at once and yet not at all.
Thomas carefully translates as we begin to discuss the circumstances that had brought us together and the journey that had been Bijan’s life as Sara Moon to the present day. Bijan told of his total amazement when he learned that people around the world still remembered his work. He has no computer or any access to the internet at all and to find that many hundreds of people were searching for him had touched him more deeply than he could express. Thomas had spent an afternoon with him some little while ago, carefully translating all the comments, complements, questions and good wishes that had been sent through the recent questionnaire. Bijan asked that I be sure to thank everyone for their warmth toward him and I responded with messages of love, good wishes and warm thanks from all of his fans, for the joy and beauty he had brought to their lives.
Bijan began to walk me around the room, proudly leading me first to a collection of miniatures. He removed one from the wall. “I paint these as a boy.” He tells me, handing me a tiny framed painting of his grand mother, barely 2 inches (5 centimeters) square and yet perfect in every detail. “How do you achieve such detail in such a small space?” I asked, indicating tiny brush strokes with my pinched fingers. “No, no,no!” he replied, touching my hand to dismiss the movement, “Tiny dots!” he said, “All tiny dots.” I shook my head in wonder.
Next he wanted to show me some ‘classic style’ images he had created as a boy. Ayoung girl taking piano lessons and then to another – a dark, dramatic, almost aggressive yet solumn image of a violinist in full musical flight. Then he tapped my arm and took me to where his love of the female form had begun. The blonde hair, the eyes and those lips could belong to no other – “Bridget Bardot?” I asked. “Yes.” He replied. I paint this when I was sixteen … and this one too!” he said, pointing to dark-haired Bridget, probably inspired by a photo from a film roll. I didn’t ask. “This is Bridget too.” He continued. “But much later.” I wasn’t sure if he meant for her or for him, but the full-frontal nude stood proudly between the two cameos on the wall behind a beautifully ornate French clock.
I asked at what stage he feels an image was going to work. His answer comes as no surprise at all. “Her eyes.” He replied. “I paint them first. If this does not work, then …” His swift downward arm action indicated the piece was destined for the trash can. He shrugged his shoulders. “There is no point in going on.” I nodded my agreement. “It is this way for me too!” I replied.
It seemed only moments before Christel was calling us back upstairs for lunch. “We will continue later,” Said Thomas. “I must not let Bijan get away without showing you in there!” he said pointing to a closed door. “Mmm!” grunted Bijan, and Thomas laughed, “It is his store room and he’s afraid you will think it is too untidy!” “How can it be?” I asked. “Everything is so perfect.”
We returned to the lounge where the table had been set for a casserole lunch with Iranian long grain rice. It was absolutely delicious. Over a glass of wine we discuss past experiences and possible futures. We all wanted to make things happen, but agreed that logistics and allocation of meaningful operational time, are two quite different matters.
The tour continued an we discuss how his work was moving on with classic nude poses dominating many of his unpublished works. We agree that the unclad female form is an irresistible challenge indeed. “I do these for me.” he tells me with pride. I noticed that many had been rendered with purposeful colour pencil strokes to express contour shadow and shade. “I draw the lines first,” he says “then complete the work in oils.” He tells me he enjoys working this way these days and that this approach was already becoming common in his later published works. I asked if he ever used acrylics and he offered a disapproving grimace. “No, no, I do not like this.” He replied. “Oils and water colour for me – and my colour pencils. I like this, the pencil strokes. They are quick – very fast.” I nod again. Pleased that I too have just begun to experiment in colour pencil, though mine are far from quick.
“Mother & Daughter”
We returned to the comfort of the white leather sofa and Christel brings us tea in fine bone china cups and there are chocolate fancies to go. Soon the art photo album is on the table and we both enjoy a photographic tour of images old and new. Images from Melanie to the end of the Verkerke era and beyond are there and I’m amazed to find there are still some published paintings among them that have not yet seen. I ask Thomas what chance of having these pictures scanned for the website and he tells me he will look into it. (Bijan doesn’t do computers!) Tea, fancies and the photo album exhausted, it’s time to visit Bijan’s basement studio and I feel my heart racing a little at the thought.
Out of the lounge and back into the front hallway we turn left to take the downward marble staircase. Framed works decorate the wall to my right as we descend. Sketches mainly, and as we pass them Bijan points, “Quick, very quick.” He says, indicating the speed with which these beautiful pieces were completed.Text content
A half-open full-length curtain drapes the foot of the stairs and we walk into the first of Bijan’s work areas. My first thought was of just how neat and tidy everything was, clean and orderly, fresh and bright.
More paintings everywhere I look. Bijan had obviously set some old friends onto easels for me, and more hung from the walls.
Tristesse was there, so was Mercedes, Active, Red Setter and Black Fury too. I was walking in a treasure house of beauty and was totally overwhelmed again.
We walked through into Bijan’s main studio room, where he teaches his students twice-weekly around a central table. “People come from thirty miles around to learn.” Says Thomas. “Bijan used to teach more, but he keeps the numbers down these days.”
I walk toward two moody ballerina images in the far-left corner of the room. “They are painted on velvet.” Bijan tells me. “Very difficult,” he continues, “creating the initial guide lines – I use soap.” He says. “The one on the left, (‘on point’ I believe they call it?) when I was finished, she looked too alone. So I added the other dancers behind her later.”
A few more photos around the studio and then back upstairs to choose that drawing. The folder looks three inches (7cm) thick. The task is impossible. First down to two dozen gorgeous images, including the original sketch for Elaine. Then down to ten and then down to three. I can’t do it and tell Bijan so. I pass them back telling him signed scan copies of these three would be more than enough for me. He smiles. “I choose.” He says. Then removes one of the three. “These are for you I think.” and signs Elaine and an other: “To my Friend John – Sara Moon 2006”. I am speechless. Mindful of the time, Bijan begins to pack them in stiff card protectors and hands them to me with a handshake and a hug and we promise to meet again.
Thank you, Thomas for the hundreds of miles you drove on the day and for your exceptional role you played as interpreter and new friend. Thank you also for making me feel so at ease at our first meeting and during my first day in your beautiful country. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you were able to make this happen.
Thank you, Bijan for the warmth of your welcome and for allowing me to wander through your life and your art for this precious moment. Over the years, the gift of your art has been immeasurable to me, and now, the gift of your two original sketches is beyond worth too.
Thank you, Christel for your hospitality, including a wonderful meal and everything that you must have done in preparation to make this day that bit easier for Bijan and for me.
Thank you all – this will always be one of my all-time most memorable moments.
– John –