There aren’t many words you could use to describe American painter Stu Mead’s studio other than “small”. Its only defining features: a sink, a bookshelf and a few hangings of Mead’s own work, a unique blend of folk art, soft porn and mad comics. Mead explains this was actually the former back quarters of the gallery Endart. “I used to sleep here,” he says, pointing to the shelf, and he begins to shape a rectangle with his arms to depict how simple it was to live, eat, drink and create art in the gallery’s studio, “no problem.”
Berlin is like a virus, and Kotti is its epicentre.
The world he inhabits today isn’t much bigger than that. With the congenital disease arthrogryposis affecting his muscles and joints, Mead explains, “I can walk one or two blocks and I’ll be at Rossmann and I’ll have everything I need. I use the bank down the road. I find the steps of Milch & Zucker difficult, so I don’t go there much anymore.” On most days you can find Mead at French bistro Chez Michel on Adalbertstraße, where two of his works hang on the wall. “Berlin is like a virus, and Kotti is its epicentre.”
Mead visited Berlin twice before his official move in 2000, which saw him “call up my friends in Minnesota and ask them to box up my things”. His friend Mark Hipper’s gallery denied his work initially, but an introduction to Klaus Theuerkauf of Endart brought him here indefinitely. Now Endart is gone, but Mead remains. His art – which often involves trashy, nostalgic renderings of young female bodies in kinky situations – has generated outrage, even in Berlin’s sexually liberated underground scene. Protesters showed up tothe 2004 Bethanien exhibition When Love Turns To Poison. More recently, an exhibition in Marseilles saw right-wing extremists accusing him of paedophilia and zoophilia. Meanwhile, though,he’s become sought after by collectors and gallerists alike. “I have a gallery in Luxembourg, and I’ll be in London next month for the release of my new book.” After six books with French art publisher Le Dernier Cri, it’s the Prague-based Divus editors who’ve compiled his entire work into a hardback.
Ironically, the man who’s got his work on international collectors’ shortlists remains unknown on his home turf – most likely for the better, given his Turkish neighbours’ probable outrage at his racy art. Does he mind? “When I fall, it’s not unlikely some young Turkish man helps me up and makes sure I’m okay. We’re getting along in everyday life.”
As both an artist and a man inextricably tied to his neighbourhood, Mead sees Kotti the way most don’t. “The old sidewalks here are amazing; they have diamond stones. It’s pretty to look at as you walk, rather than the boring horizontal slabs. Then you have the smaller square blocks of paving stones – perfect for digging and picking up to throw on May 1. And then, the day after, you see the city put the stones back. No problem.”