Anyone looking at the work of Robert Peter Keil can´t help but be drawn in by his power of expression. It´s no coincidence that the artist is represented in countless collections between Saint Petersburg and West Palm Beach. Not for nothing did actors such as Götz George and Arnold Schwarzenegger buy his art, the fashion icon Gianni Versace commission two paintings shortly before his death, or colleagues such as Markus Lüpertz show their appreciation of his work. The artist himself isn´t smug about this at all. He maintains that he´s still the same simple boy he always was.

Keil was a war baby, born in 6 August 1942 in Züllichau (now Sulechów) in Pomerania just two and a half weeks before Hitler launched Operation Winter Storm on Stalingrad. He never knew his father (an artist blacksmith and marine lieutenant), as the latter never returned from the front during WWII. Scientists say that autobiographical recollections stretch back as far as the third year of life, and Keil does in fact have fragmented memories dating from this early part of his biography. He still has flashbacks of the refugee trail leading west from Oderbruch, his grandmother vainly begging a farmer for little milk, or his grandfather stranding before him in Potsdam on being released from captivity (Grandfather Keil later tended the park at the place of Sanssouci). By contrast, highly traumatic events were buried beneath a cloak of oblivion. Keil only learned from them much later.

With increasing age, the image sequences became even more consolidated, for instance the first day at the Ernst Thälmann school, with Russian and German playmates including Wolfgang Joop or `Wölfchen´,who was the younger by 2 years. And then there was an event that Keil was never to forget. When he was eight years old, a woman and her husband appeared on the scene. They were introduced to him as his aunt and uncle. It was only after a couple of visits that he was told their true identity. Having believed that his grandmother was his mother, he learned this woman was his real mother, and the supposed to be uncle his stepfather. They took the boy with them to the working-class Berlin neighbourhood of Wedding. Here he attended his new school, where one of his classmates went by the name of Cornelia Froboess.

The move from Potsdam to Berlin was extreme and abrupt. Up until this point, Keil had lived in an environment of water, forests and meadows, but this new world consisted of grey street canyons. As he gazed Jongingly out of his window at night, he saw rats as big as small cats scurrying across the backyard. In the light of the day, he got a taste of urban squalor: Beggars and drunks roaming the streets, bare-knuckle boxers slugging it out for financial gain until the blood spattered. It was in this new environment that Keil suffered a serious psychological crisis. He refers to this period as the `fateful years´, but they also led him to visit the municipal library with his mother, where he took out books on art. He discovered the painting of Picasso and Beckmann and became intoxicated by the color schemes of impressionists such as Cézanne, Monet and Rodin. At the age of 10, he tried his own hand at painting. His workplace was a table in the attic next to the washing lines, and in summer he also painted in his parents’ apartment, using the cover of a kitchen appliance as a base. He began by copying the grand masters and then moved on to collages, finding objects on the sidewalks, which he applied to rough sacking with paint.

The relocation of the adolescent Keil brought him into contact with Otto Nagel. The `working-class painter from Wedding´ became his first art teacher of note. They met at a `Lumpenstampe´ (textile salvaging business) in a back yard, run by the parents of a friend. Here, amid piles of soldiers’ helmets and rapiers, uniforms and other discarded textiles were collected, pressed into `bales of compact rags´ and sent for recycling. Nagel was sitting in a corner of the half bombed out building, painting a picture. Keil describes the artist, a close friend of Heinrich Zille and Käthe Kollwitz, as a small, reserved and slightly odd-looking man. He found the subjects for his work in the proletarian milieu from which he himself hailed: Backyards and factories, workers and prostitutes, urban landscapes and the countryside beyond. Nagel took the 12-year-old Keil under his wing. He taught him painting techniques, how to handle paints and how to cope with the intricacies of realistic painting: together they wandered through the streets and backyards and along the Panke river. Int this way, the adolescent learned from his mentor how to see his surrounding in a different light, namely through the eyes of an artist. In time, the teach-pupil relationship became a friendship, which was rudely interrupted in 1961 with the building of the Wall.

At the age of 15, Keil met another important artist 1600 kilometers away. Thanks to a generous `apanage´ from his stepfather – whom Keil always referred to as his father – he was able to spend 6 winters in Mallorca from 1957 to 1962. It was there that he met the young Berlin native Joan Mirò. An acquainanceship developed between the teenager and Mirò, then in his mid-sixties. The budding artist from Alemana was fascinated by the Catelan’s color palette but at the time was unable to relate to his abstract symbolism. Nonetheless, the experience sowed the seed for a new creative vocabulary and made Keil appreciate how a picture gradually unfolds during the painting process. He was later to carry this further, saying: “When I get an idea, I have to implement it right away. For that I need a clear mind. In fact, you need to clear your mind of everything.” One time in Spain, while at a bullfight with his parents, the young Keil also had two encounters with Pablo Picasso. His great idol was surrounded by a vast entourage, but at least Keil managed to shake his hand.

In the meantime, Keil continued to mature at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin – renamed `Universität der Künste´(Berlin University of Arts´) in 2001. During his studies between 1959 and 1961, he met Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz and Eugen Schönebeck, as well as Rainer Fetting, Salomé and Joachim Schmettau.

1961 saw a radical change take place to Berlin. On 13 August, exactly one week after Keil’s birthday, the regime of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) built the Wall, effectively leaving West Berlin an island. A new cultural scene soon began to evolve on the island: Eugen Schönebeck and Georg Baselitz presented their `Pandamonium Manifesto´ in protest against the establishment art forms; in an industrial loft in Berlin-Schöneberg, 16 artists founded a self-halp gallery by the name of Großgörschen 35; and on Kohlfurter Straße in the Kreuzberg working-class district. Hertha Fiedler renamed her bar “Kleine Weltlaterne” (Little Lantern of the World), transforming it into a hot spot where art aficionados and artists, both young and old, met to swap ideas over a beer and a bread and dripping sandwich, often having a drink too many in the process. Somewhere in among all this: Peter Robert Keil.

He moved into a large 350 sqare meter apartment complete with studio on Kurfürstenstraße. The two artists Rainer Fetting and Salomè, a couple at the same time, were living and working just a few houses away. Also in this neighbourhood is Potsdamer Straße, the former red-light district of the bisected city. This didn’t faze Keil. After creating a piece of chalk art on the sidewalk, would drop in at Rolf Eden’s nightclub for a Coke. He was introduced to the homosexual community by Fetting and Salomè, but above all the screenwriter Harry Puhlmann and this fained him entry to the Trocatero Bar und Kleist Casino. Moreover, Puhlman broke-red the first sale of one of his pictures- to the actor Hubert von Meyerlinck.

Keil led the life of an artist and a Bohemian. He moved unselfconsciously between the two worlds, always keeping his distance. Before a party thrown by Salomè and Fetting became too wild, he would embroiled in the student movement of 1968. The revolution propagated by intellectual debaters with a Mao Bible or the Communist Manifesto unter their arm wasn’t his thing. He had a burning passion for art, no more and no less. All the same, his gregarious and uninhibited nature proved a bonus during the time spent in paris and London in the 1970s. At the same time his painting shifted further and further away from Realism and more towards an individual language of style and color.

In the late 1970s, two decisive events were to shape Keil’s life. In Berlin, he met the assistant physican Alla Gois. Marrying in 1979, their list of wedding guests included the film producer Artur Brauner, who already awned several of Keil’s artworks. Alla comes from a Jewish family originally from Odessa and acquainted with the family of Elena Invanova Diakonova, better known as Gala Éluard Dalf. The couple traveled to Figueras to visit their frien, but there was no exchange between the artists on this occasion: Salvador Darf proved to be withdrawn and unapproachable.

Thanks to his Paris sojourn and his fruitful liaison with Fetting und Salomè, Keil was meanwhile developing a new type of expressionist painting characterized by wild brushstrokes and bold color. The artist’s new style represented a complete upheaval of the intellectual brand of painting popular in the 1970s. It has gone down in an art history as `Heftige malerei´ (Fierce Painting ) or `Wilde Malerei´ (Wild Painting), with Keil as one of its ambassadors. In 1985, he found a gallery owner in Michael Wewerka who would exhibit his work in a gallery on Fasenstraße, but Wewerka subquently stepped away from the gallery sector to take up a new life in Spain. In the meantime, the social hub of the walled-in city had moved to the night club of Romy Haag, where Keil crossed paths with David Bowie and Andy Warhol.

In Berlin changes were also pending for the Keils as a family. They were obliged to leave their residence in Kurfürstenstraße. Following an intermezzo in Schöneberg, they found a spacious new domicile with a studio for themselves and their three children in the district of Steglitz. Luck played a major part in this: The female real state broker was a former classmate of Keil back in the days when he lived in Wedding. However, this happy state of affairs was not to last long: His wife Alla died from a ruptured brain ancurysm, and Keil was unable to paint for the next three years. He lived from the financial support provided by his mother and scratched a living for himself and his children by selling off pictures from his private collection, along with drawings once given to him by Miró. A young Polish woman, Bogumila, was assigned as a family helper. This help blossomed into more. Keil and `Bo´ married, and the artist went on to have more four children by her. The desire to create ordered circumstances in which to raise the children prompted a move to Zimmerau in Lower Franconia in the 1990s. Parallel to this, they established a secold foothold in Hollywood, Florida. Today Keil lives and works in both locations. Fate dealt him another heavy blow when his oldest son died 2002. Once again, it was his with Bo who helped over it.

Dispite all the highs and lows, Keil has always remained true to his art, always preserving his independence and versatility. Whether it be artwork on canvas or paper, whether Majolika ceramics or painted bedsheets, his creative passion shines through. And what could be nicer than to hear from an artist who has never persued larg-scale commercial success say: “I’m happy with what I have. Although it might be nice to have more.”

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