The Mysterious Mr. Q
Several years ago, I found myself in Schoenhof’s, a foreign-language bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to buying a French picture dictionary and a book on the roots of Chinese characters, I bought a couple of postcards from a display next to the register.
As fitting the character of the store, the postcards were also foreign. The two I picked were by the same German illustrator, both in sort of a surrealist style. One was a picture of a bunch of men in business suits swimming like a school of fish. I sent that one to Melyngoch. The other one was of a man using a ladder to climb out of the illustration in a giant book. I kept it for myself.
Later, I went to the artist’s website, where I saw more of his paintings. Books seemed to be a theme running through much of much of his work – he painted lighthouses with towers built of books, a man sleeping on the ground with a giant book for a blanket, and a man floating in the air while standing on a book. My favorite picture, though, had no books at all: it was a picture of five musicians in concert attire, sitting or standing on a giant wooden plank which was precariously balanced on a rock in the ocean. I always wanted to buy more postcards or prints by this painter, but the distributor was based in Germany and the shipping costs were prohibitive.
Years passed, and I forgot all about the paintings, until a recent conversation about René Magritte reminded me of the other, modern surrealist. I decided to look him up again – perhaps his prints were now more widely available in the U.S.? – but when I sat down at my laptop, I had a sudden, sickening realization: I couldn’t remember his name.
I knew he was German, and I thought that maybe his name had a “Q” in it, but I couldn’t remember if that was his first name or last name. And there was a very real possibility that his name didn’t actually include a “Q” at all. (I have an odd memory for names – in my mind, “Emily” and “Sarah” are the same name, for example. Anyone I meet with either name is liable to be called the other unless I think really hard, first.)
I could see many of his paintings in my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t think of the exact titles of any of them. (Worse, I seemed to remember that the titles had been very generic in nature, like “Flight” or “Sleep.”)
I had moved across the country since buying the postcard, and I had lost it along the way. (I even spent an hour last summer looking for it in some boxes of stuff being stored at my parents’ house.) Melyngoch couldn’t find hers, either.
His website was something.de and the “something” was the German cognate of an English word, but I couldn’t remember the word.
I tried contacting Schoenhof’s, but their website didn’t have any information about the postcards, and they didn’t return my email.
I didn’t think he was famous enough to be in Wikipedia; Googling “German” and “surrealist” returned sites about Max Ernst.
Days later, I remembered that I’d seen some of his work on an art website – I could at least browse through the names of all of the artists, hoping that one of them would ring a bell. I went to the website, only to discover that it had been taken down.
I may be a 100 Hour Board writer, a librarian, and a general researcher extraordinaire, but even I was stumped as to how to find a painting with no title by a person with no name. Having almost given up hope, I then had the smallest idea of a place to start. I didn’t know the title of any one painting, but he often painted pictures of books. What if I went to an art retailer’s website and did a keyword search on “book”? Narrowing my results down to “Art.com” hits from Amazon, I carefully scanned through the results. On the third page, I finally recognized a print by Quint Buchholz.