Sunday 25 February 2018

Still crazy after all these years

Artist Claus Havemann and his photographer daughter Krestine are Danish, but their hearts are Irish, they tell our reporter

Krestine Havemann and her father Claus in Dublin. Photo: Krestine Havemann
Krestine Havemann and her father Claus in Dublin. Photo: Krestine Havemann
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Claus Havemann and his daughter Krestine are utterly devoted to one another, but are the first to admit that they have a slightly tempestuous relationship. "We could have a big row and I storm to my room thinking he is an asshole, and 10 minutes later, there is a knock on my door asking if I want tea?" laughs the very personable and beautiful Krestine. "We get over it, but he can drive me crazy."

"She drives ME crazy," Claus, 74, counters. "If you don't fight, the annoyance will stay in your tummy and turn bad, which is dangerous. I'm not an easy-going person, and while I'm not Trump, I have a big ego and don't suffer fools. But behind that, I do think of other people."

The slightly roguish but very charming Claus was born in Denmark as the elder of Aage and Grethe's two sons. He was an artistic child but struggled with dyslexia and left school at 16 to become a house painter. After being drafted into the army, he went to art college in Copenhagen, and was then headhunted by Bang & Olufsen to design brochures. However, he felt he wasn't suited to the 9-5 lifestyle, so he left to become a full-time artist. "I was very poor, but I didn't mind that because I was satisfied creatively," he says.

After trying out other countries, Claus came to Ireland to paint in the mid 1960s, and ended up falling in love with Sherkin Island, which he ended up on accidentally. He built a studio and has divided his time equally between there and Hillerod, north of Copenhagen, since then. "Sherkin has soul," he says. "I loved it because everyone there was a bit mad and I'm mad myself. I have better friends on Sherkin than I do in Denmark."

Claus got married to Ulla at 30, and Krestine (43) is their only child. Sadly, the marriage ended when she was 21, but the couple still live in the same Danish town and have remained good friends. Krestine recalls the novelty of spending half of the year growing up in each country, where she was one of 12 children in the entire school on Sherkin and one of 28 in her class in Denmark.

She remembers her dad as a colourful, unpredictable character with a highly artistic temperament. He would paint on Sherkin and sell the paintings to galleries back in Denmark. "You never knew what frame of mind he would be in, as painting came first and he was out partying a lot," she says. "He was very strict and you couldn't talk to him about "silly" problems, but he was good if I did anything really wrong, like the time I stole pencils from a Danish shop because money was tight and I was desperate to keep up with the other kids. Mum is very sweet and kind and I could go to her about problems like boyfriend troubles."

Krestine started taking photographs at 11, and it soon became evident that she had a talent for it. When she was 15, she took pictures of her dad in his studio, and they ended up in a Danish paper with her byline. She went to Limerick for three years and modelled with Celia Holman-Lee, which she loved. She then went back to Denmark and modelled in Milan, and at every casting and shoot she asked the photographers if she could assist them afterwards, which got her a lot of work experience. She went back to Sherkin to learn how to draw from her dad, to develop her artistic eye, before moving to London.

Krestine's talent saw her getting a job as a photographer with the Evening Standard. and she remained there for nine years. She got married to a fellow photographer, but unfortunately that didn't work out so she moved back to Denmark to start afresh. Now freelance, she principally works with royal weekly magazine, Billed Bladet, and the Discovery channel in Denmark and is very happy.

Krestine still loves Sherkin and spends two weeks there in the summer and 10 days at Christmas. She has been dating an Australian songwriter and computer programmer, Mark Ryan, for three years. He has a seven-year-old daughter, Matilde, who lives with them every second week.

She was in Dublin recently as Claus donated a fabulous painting to The National Library of Ireland called Irish Eyes, which features the eyes of 12 famous writers and poets, including Seamus Heaney, James Joyce and Edna O'Brien. Last year, he donated another "eyes" painting of nine leaders of the 1916 Rising, which hangs in Richmond Barracks.

Claus developed aggressive prostate cancer four years ago. He is currently on a hormone-based treatment and is responding well to it. Krestine has been a huge help during this time he says, as has his beloved partner, Pauline McSweeney. "I am very scared of losing Dad because I don't know who else could mobilise troops the way he can," says Krestine. "He is always there if I need him, and is straight on the phone sorting every problem out for me. He lives the life he wants, come hell or high water, and I have huge respect for that."

Claus says that there are many types of love in his life, such as the romantic love he has for Pauline and his abiding love for Ireland. "I may be Danish but my heart is Irish," he says, as Krestine nods in agreement. "Krestine's soul is pure and innocent and she is more intelligent than me. She is extremely kind too.

"My love for her is so deep, it is indescribable."

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