Monsignore Otto Mauer held Walter Kampmann’s exhibition flyer aloft and said something like “This is the work of the devil!” He then spoke of insanity, war’s end and the nuthouse. He talked to us students. It was in the Hofburg, I think, and it was a winter’s night, roughly November 1948. I stood at the window, paying more heed to the outdoors than Mauer’s words. It was foggy outside. All street lamps had halos; the same halos as Walter Kampmann’s trees.

Therefore, Kampmann could not be of the devil — or was Mauer so angry, because only saints and gods are allowed to wear halos, but not trees and street lights? I have always wanted to ask Otto Mauer what it was that had spurred his anger against Walter Kampmann. Perhaps at the time he did not really understand the miracles of modern painting. Or could it be that I had misunderstood something? Perhaps he meant Picasso. It’s too late now. Otto Mauer is dead. There is a lot I would like to have asked him about.

When I see street lamps in a misty rain and trees in the frost I think of Walter Kampmann.When I am being asked which painters have influenced me, I always name Walter Kampmann. But because he is not as well-known as for instance Klimt and Klee, his name is usually not mentioned when one discusses me. Convenient. This is the reason why I had huge arguments in telephone conversations and telegrams with U.C., the University Art Museum in Berkeley. I insisted that my 1968 exhibition catalogue be reprinted to include the name Walter Kampmann.

Since 1948 I tried to paint trees as Walter Kampmann drew them. But I never succeeded. They turned into Hundertwasser-Kampmann trees, somehow transparent and more colorful, but without the deep glow from inside. My French painter friend Brô was so impressed by my Kampmann trees that he gave me permission to use in my paintings his Brô spindle eyes which he had picked up somewhere, if in turn I allowed him to paint Kampmann trees.

I hope Kampmann does not object to this export, for now there are also Brô-Kampmann trees. Traders trade among themselves. Painters, too, trade foreign goods among themselves. Kampmann’s exhibition in 1948 took place at the Albertina. In the long hall, on angular tables under glass. They were watercolor drawings enhanced with white. They hypnotized me like icons in a dark church.

Glass-clanking winter trees.

Transparent trees.

Trees with an aura.

Soul trees.

Works which touch God.

One could see through them.

Light was radiating from each tree.

One could not discern whether it was in winter snow or in lush summer green, whether the trees were bare or foliate, whether it was day or night, and yet everything was depicted very precise. There were no shadows. This made the landscapes appear timeless. There were no colors. And yet, the paintings were not colorless, on the contrary.

An old woman passed a house which was lit by the uncanny light of the soul trees which surrounded it. She herself walked with a halo that reached from her head to her toe. On another sheet there were bomb craters which resembled deep ulcerous wounds.

But beautiful.

For crying.

For falling in love.

I thought the Kampmann sheets would be in the permanent collection of the Albertina. At the time, I did not want to go back to see them again. I carried the soul trees continuously within me, for years. One should not go back to a church in order to check whether God is still there. One should also not go to church a second time so that God does not become stale.

But when I inquired about Kampmann in the Albertina ten years later, nobody knew about him anymore. Nobody remembered the Kampmann exhibition. There was no catalogue, no flyer of the Kampmann exhibition, no check list, no reference in the archives that an exhibition had ever taken place.

The Albertina did not own a Kampmann. Just one picture, which must have been by another painter, it was so unimportant. Kampmann did not exist. So I began to search for Kampmann. He was not registered in encyclopedias. In other reference books, I found several Kampmann entries but without illustrations. Was it Erich, was it Walter? Or others? Nobody could provide information.

All the art critics, museum people, collectors, art dealers, auctioneers and painters shook their heads. Nobody knew him. I panicked. I decided to commission a private detective to search for Kampmann. Finally, after seven years, I discovered a trace: in Wuppertal? in Alpbach? in Berlin? in Braunschweig?

I met Kat Kampmann, Winnetou Kampmann, Utz Kampmann and at last Bodo Kampmann in Salzburg. But first I met Angelika Kampmann. Finally I had succeeded. She was Walter Kampmann’s last child. She was born as he died. Shortly after he had painted the soul trees. He died in 1945 when the Russians marched in, east of East Berlin. In the apartment of Angelika’s mother Kat hung a painting by Walter Kampmann. A fairytale hill with glass-clanking winter trees. I met Angelika first in Berlin, then at Lake Geneva.

I was in search of Kampmann and found his flesh and blood. We drove along the lake naked. She was twenty years old and very beautiful, and tanned all over. I sensed her skin and I felt her hands. She knew little about soul trees. I felt sacred.