“I am Arno Stern, Painting-Play Servant. I am going to tell you what this is. I am also going to tell you a bit about myself, to tell you where I come from.
I was born in Kassel, in Germany, in 1924. This is where I spent my early childhood. Then, in 1933, when Hitler came to power, my parents and I fled this regime. We emigrated to France. I have lived in France since then. I am French, and this is where I work. This is where I practice my profession as Painting-play Servant – an occupation for which I created a place called the Closlieu. I am going to tell you what happened in my life, which also explains the originality of the profession I have been practicing for about sixty years.
When France was occupied [in 1940] we fled the small town where we then lived in Eastern France. We first went to the “free zone” – the so-called “free zone.” We were then more and more threatened to be arrested in this free zone, so we crossed the Swiss border. It was not easy, but we succeeded. We entered Switzerland. We were received in a labor camp where we spent three years working in this camp in Switzerland. These were my teenage years. I was between 16 and 20 years old, so it replaced the last years of education.
At the end of the war, we were repatriated, and when I came back to France I had no education, no diploma, no plan for the future, no preparation for working life. I was then offered a job in a home for war orphans in the suburbs of Paris. I accepted it.
I found myself there, facing children. I had no preparation at all. I had no training in education or pedagogy. And I was told to occupy the children. There was very little. We had nothing. France had been looted. What could I use? What could I offer to the children?
I found bits of pencils, scraps of paper. I let the children draw. They were enjoying it very much. Then, very soon, some paint was made, and I offered the children the opportunity to paint. A place had to be created for that purpose. The children were enthusiastic. It was an unforeseen, extraordinary adventure. The children painted. It was the only thing they wanted to do. They wanted to paint all day long. All the children wanted to be playing. It was extraordinary. I said it already.
It lasted a bit more than two years. And then, when I left the orphanage, my only wish was to keep on doing what I had done with the children – with the orphans in the orphanage.
So I created in Paris a studio called the Academie du Jeudi [Thursday Academy]. Why did I choose this name? Because at that time children did not go to school on Thursdays, and one knew immediately when Thursday was mentioned that it involved children. Actually, I welcomed there children who had the same age as children of the orphanage, but soon I realized that it was not limited to a certain age – that it was not only children between 5 and 15. Children who had also grown up, they had exceeded the limit. But I observed that people enjoyed painting in this way beyond childhood years. So I welcomed older people. And today, in the Closlieu – this is the name of the place I created – people of all ages come: little ones who are two or three years old, but also grownups, the oldest ones are more than 60 years old. They paint in groups of about 15 people, and in each group there are beginners an confirmed players – and this is how it should be, of course. These are not classes, nor categories – but rather people coming from everywhere who regularly meet each other, every week, once a week, and who enjoy together what I call “Painting-Play.
I distinguish between the Panting-Play and the painting art. The painting art belongs to the artists. The Painting-Play belongs to everyone else. Everybody can play in the Closlieu. Everybody is able to play. No special gift is required. Nobody is disabled or prevented. It is really a pleasure which everybody can enjoy.”