Portrait: Matthew Gordon, Taiko Gallery

by James Glazebrook

Matthew Gordon, Taiko Gallery, Berlin

Meet Matthew Gordon, the co-owner of Taiko Gallery, a new tattoo studio and art space on Schönleinstrasse in our beloved Graefekiez.

Originally from Sydney, Matthew first landed in Berlin two years ago, after travelling to Europe with his Taiko partner Wendy Pham. They visited fellow tattoo artist Uncle Allan in Denmark, who mentioned plans to open a German outpost, and invited the Aussies to join him. Already half a world away from home, they were unphased by the last leg of a journey to a city they’d never even planned to visit. As Matthew says of his fellow countrymen, “we’re all crazy anyway!”

Matthew Gordon art space Berlin

Moving to Berlin was just the latest in a series of risky but rewarding moves for the young artist. At 19, he quit a promising career as a 3D animator, designing levels for video games and fly-throughs of skyscrapers in Dubai, and persuaded the guy who had started covering his body with ink to train him as an apprentice. Then Gordon cut his apprenticeship short to move to Melbourne, where he opened up a private studio with Wendy.

Inspired by Grime of San Francisco’s Skull and Sword, Shige of Yellow Blaze in Yokohama and local hero Owen Williams of TAMA, Matthew started carving out a niche in the tattoo world: “I don’t look at any other work or references. I draw from my head, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. It’s the only way to give yourself a style”. That style, which Matthew calls “open illustrated Japanese”, renders Eastern-inspired imagery in vibrant colour and (not surprisingly) perfect 3D, with dragons and snakes covered in intricate, interlocked scales that pulsate from the subject’s skin. He conservatively estimates that his forthcoming art book contains over 5,000 hand-drawn scales.

Matthew Gordon Medusa snakes sketch

The desire to be different that informs Matthew’s work is also shaping the shopfront that he single-handedly renovated from a water-damaged, nicotine-stained Fahrschule into a beautiful, white-walled, multidisciplinary space. “We’re trying to create something different, that’s not just a little hole-in-the-wall studio,” Matthew explains. Taiko Gallery  is “more about the art, and less about making a million dollars,” serving as an exhibition space for the founders’ paintings, and a venue for life drawing classes and other creative events. Above all, it is “a positive place”.

Matthew Gordon art space Berlin

Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased about the latest development of this small Kreuzberg side-street, where old school Berliner haunts like the 24-hour bar Bei Schlawinchen rub up against the internationally-owned curiosity shop The Cheese Mountain Tragedy. The subject of thoughtless protests against the perceived gentrification of long-gentrified Graefekiez, Matthew finds himself cleaning spit off the gallery’s window almost every day.

But far from feeling threatened by such low-level hostility – “I’ve got a scythe in the back; I’d like to see them try” – he has been surprised by the extent to which foreigners are tolerated, if not always embraced, in Berlin. “Most of my time is spent in my own little bubble. I feel like an alien sometimes, but that’s OK. I’m in my own little world, no one really pays attention to me, and that’s fine.”

Matthew Gordon at work tattooing

“It’s definitely opened my eyes to the way that Australians deal with foreigners. If you go to Australia, and you have trouble speaking English, it’s horrible for you. People are abused to their face, and it’s just shit. If I ever go back and see that, those racists are getting told to shut the fuck up.”

Provincial attitudes aside, Matthew is optimistic about the future of Taiko Gallery and his adopted home: “Even in the two years I’ve been here, I’ve noticed more art going on and I’ve met lots of interesting people. Berlin is a great city. It’s a good place to have a new thing, one that doesn’t really exist yet. In five years, you’ll have built a reputation, with expats and Germans alike.” Put simply: “Being able to see Berlin grow is cool.”

Matthew’s book of snake illustrations, the Compendium Vipera, is now available via Illustrated Monthly.

Taiko Gallery, Schönleinstrasse, Berlin

Taiko Gallery, Schönleinstrasse, Berlin

Tattoo ink bottles

Matthew Gordon leg tattoo

Matthew Gordon tattoo sketch skull snake

Matthew Gordon Taiko Gallery paintings

Matthew Gordon animal skull painting

Matthew Gordon painting close up

Matthew Gordon self portrait close up

Matthew Gordon, co-owner Taiko Gallery in Berlin

Ask überlin #2: Snap Chat

by James Glazebrook

Ask überlin #2 Snap Chat

Find out the secrets of Zoë’s success! For this week’s Ask überlin we help out a reader who’s looking for photography work here in Berlin. Listen in to learn about the humble beginnings of Zoë Noble Photography, how to set yourself apart from all the iPhone snappers out there, and which Berlin photo blogs and instagram profiles we go to for inspiration.

Oh, and if you’re a figurative artist and/or a fan of Käthe Kollwitz, then we need your help! A reader who’s moving to Berlin in the new year is planning a study of the local art icon, so if you are able to help, or know someone who can, then we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a comment on this blog post, or our SoundCloud, or send an email to the address listed below. Thanks a lot, art nerds!

Got a question for us? Stick it in an email to ask@uberlin.co and we’ll answer you on an upcoming episode of Ask überlin!

Boros Art Bunker

by James Glazebrook

Boros Art Bunker outside

Berlin is a city that hides its charms well, and the Sammlung Boros “art bunker” is one of its finest hidden gems. Behind an unmarked steel door set into the 3m-thick wall of a blank concrete cube, on an otherwise unremarkable street, is one of the best private collections of contemporary art in the world. The above-ground bunker on Reinhardtstrasse in Mitte, which once sheltered an estimated 3,000 wartime Berliners, now houses one-sixth of the art owned of Christian and Karen Boros, a rotating collection that is updated every four years. Photography is forbidden, except for in the reception area, so the only way to see inside is to reserve a space on a guided tour.

Boros Art Bunker neon light

While the Boros display impeccable taste in art, their bunker will delight history and architecture enthusiasts as well as aesthetes. Built in 1943, with 120 rooms across five floors, and a total area of 1,000 square metres, the building was intended for future use as a memorial to Germania – as evidenced by the superfluous detailing that decorates the exterior. During the Cold War, the GDR took advantage of its naturally cool (13°C) conditions and used it to store tropical fruit, earning it the nickname “the banana bunker”. And in the early 90s, the building housed one of Berlin’s most notorious techno clubs. The Boros’ five-year reconstruction left many telltale signs of the bunker’s past untouched, including glow-in-the-dark arrows intended to guide those sheltering from bombs and the flaking black paint that denotes the former club’s dark rooms.

Boros Art Bunker detail

Those who go to the bunker for the art won’t be disappointed either. Speaking entirely subjectively, the Boros’ second exhibition includes the best contemporary photography, painting and sculpture I’ve ever encountered. The current rotation seems handpicked for those preoccupied with death, darkness and other gothy themes (like us!), with highlights such as Dirk Bell’s intricate, amorphic drawings, Alicja Kwade’s experiments with material and noise and Michael Sailstorfer’s show-stealing installations: a racecar tyre constantly rubbing against a wall, filling the whole floor with the smell of burning blacktop, and myriad black rubber “clouds” originally designed to bring the Berlin weather to a Brazilian art fair.

Boros Art Bunker gold bars

If this enviable art collection isn’t enough to make you sick, just check out this Freunde von Freunden video of the Boros’ apartment on top of the bunker. While I’d happily kill the couple (and their son) to live like that, I’ll have to settle for visiting the building on a regular basis. One of the best things we’ve ever done in Berlin, and an ideal activity for these cold winter months. Go to there.

Boros Art Bunker telephone

Boros Art Bunker glass sculpture

Boros Art Bunker exterior detail

Boros Art Bunker exterior

The Cheese Mountain Tragedy

by James Glazebrook

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 1

What a kwinkidink! We were walking down Schönleinstrasse, and who did we see standing in a shop window but Josh Bauman, illustrator of both the Caffeinated Toothpaste comic strips and this awesome Daily Deutsch doodle? It turns out that said shop is the studio and gallery that Josh shares with fellow arty types Johan Potma and Wolfgang Reimers. The Cheese Mountain Tragedy (LOL) is a real treasure trove, wall-to-wall with comics, prints and other objets, all but the most sentimentally-valuable of which are available to buy – at low low prices! It’s worth popping your head in to see how these (surprisingly neat) artists work, and envy their creative life and awesome kit. Josh showed us his sweet interactive pen display, before signing a copy of the first Caffeinated Toothpaste book, and we walked home with silly grins on our stupid faces. Yay!

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 2

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 3

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 4

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 5

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 6

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 7

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 8

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 9

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 10

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 16

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 11

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 12

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 13

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 14

Cheese Mountain Tragedy 15

Winter is Over

by Zoë Noble

Winter is Over

Music Montag: David Bowie / Xu Xu Fang

by James Glazebrook

It’s a big year for Bowie, as Dame David has just turned 65 and celebrated the 35th anniversary of his first classic Berlin album, Low. The city is celebrating its favourite adopted son this week with a film screening, walking tour and club night in his honour. Allow us to join in by posting the video for Xu Xu Fang’s cover of “China Girl”, featuring a few of our favourite things – horses, beards, black and white.

If you feel like toasting the Thin White Duke, you should start with Merkezi Movie Club on Monday, which is screening Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, starring Bowie as the eponymous alien. Feeling Gloomy will be going through ch-ch-changes all day Saturday, with a Bowie Tour and a Bowie-themed edition of the Feeling Gloomy Clubnacht.

If you’re unlucky enough not to live in Berlin (sadface), or can’t make these awesome events for any other reason, you can at least live vicariously through illustrator Holly Sims’ Bowie-inspired poster series for Feeling Gloomy. Altogether now, “I, I will be king…”

Heroes by Holly Sims

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

by James Glazebrook

The clear highlight of our recent trip to Copenhagen was the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which justifiably calls itself “the most beautiful museum in the world”. An hour up the Zealand coast from the Danish capital, the Louisiana combines an excellent collection of postwar art with a sculpture garden that drops down onto a beach with panoramic views of the Oresund. Not only was the museum the best thing we did on our trip to Scandinavia, but it had us eyeing all the nearby houses and vowing to one day live somewhere “just like this”.

The Louisiana’s permanent collection includes big names like Warhol and Henry Moore, but my personal favourites were the greatest cluster of Giacometti’s stick-thin man-maquettes I’ve ever seen, and the precarious Self Passage, a George Traka installation that leads brave explorers down to the ocean. A temporary exhibition by persecuted Chinese artist Ai Weiwei pricked our lazy Western consciences, and a retrospective of Andreas Gursky’s extraordinarily expansive photographic art has changed the way Zoë looks at her craft forever.

But let’s face it, it’s the stunning setting that will keep us going back to the Louisiana more. We’re seriously considering flying back to Copenhagen just to jump on the train up to the museum, and come straight back. If that sounds insane, one look at these photos and you’ll totally understand.

Click here to read all about our trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm.