Who is Helga Voci?
I was born in Prag, Czechoslovakia in 1939, just before the war started. My parents were Germans, at that time many Germans had been living in Czechoslovakia for generations. When the war started my father had to join the army and he was killed in 1941 in Russia, my maiden name was Drössler.
In 1945 all Germans had to leave Czechoslovakia (because Hitler had lost the war) and we were brought to Germany, my family to Bavaria.
In 1948 my mother married again, her name was then Brandl, I kept the name Drössler. After high school I went for 1 year to a Hotel boarding school, where I received my diploma when I was 18. In order to improve my language knowledge in English and French which was very important for that profession, I decided to go to Paris together with a girlfriend of that school. A few months before we had made a short trip to Paris to find out what possibilities we had to find accommodations, the right school and the way to make some money, as my family and her family were not quite happy about the idea to see us go to Paris (this was over 50 years ago!)and they did not want to finance this project.
Anyway, we took the train in December 1957, went to Paris, took a taxi and went right away to school. There was a big blackboard in the hallway with many ads of families who were looking for au-pair girls. We called several numbers and within short time we both had a place to live.
In Paris we stayed until March 1959. It was a beautiful time, we studied, in the evenings we frequented the typical Parisien coffeehouses where we met many students and many artists and during the holidays we made trips through France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and so on. In March 1959 we decided to work for the season to make some money. So we both found work in a Hotel in Bernkastel at the Mosel/Germany for 6 months, until September 1959. Then we both went home to our families for a few months.
Chapter Two: Helga meets DIEGO in Paris
My girlfriend and I decided to go back to Paris in January 1960 to study for another period. Shortly after that I met DIEGO one Sunday afternoon my girlfriend Eve and I were sitting in a very famous coffeehouse which was frequented by many artists: Les Deux Magots.
Suddenly the famous Italian sculptor, Gigi Guadagnucci (whom we had already known from before) entered together with Diego (had never seen before) and they came to sit at our table. We had a nice chat and some time later they left.
I didn’t see DIEGO for several weeks and then one day I was in a Bank to change some money when I heard a voice behind me....”Mademoiselle Helga...”, I turned and saw DIEGO behind me and he said: “Can I give you a lift with my car?” I must say at that time I had met many artists who were quite poor, they were all seriously working, they mostly had small ateliers, no comfort, happy when they sold a painting, and then invited the others. And when they didn’t sell - just eating bread and black coffee. Nobody had a car, in fact DIEGO was called: “el pintor con coche” (which means- the painter with a car) . So, when I heard DIEGO inviting me in his car I thought: this man is showing off, besides the car he was very well dressed, like a businessman. So I said: “I have to go to school and it’s very close, I can walk there, I don’t need a car.” Finally he convinced me to sit in his car and he explained to me that he had seen me, left the car outside the Bank at a corner (double-parked) in order to follow me and that he had to move the car.
Okay, this was the beginning of a 25 years lasting love, we stayed together until December 1985 when DIEGO died of lung cancer. In Paris we stayed until October 1960. We had a wonderful time, I became acquainted with another part of Paris, we went to fantastic Restaurants, we met very interesting people, many artists, long discussions in - La Coupole-another famous place, that was frequented by such artists as such as Yves Klein (painter), Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (both writers) and many others.
DIEGO was living in a small Hotel near the Seine, he did not really work, just a few sketches from time to time and I was wondering how he was financing his living. He made a big secret about his finances. He spent quite a lot of money, he had a big car and he hardly worked. From time to time he went off from Paris for a few days or a week and then everything went on again. He told me that he was separated from his wife Josiane, maiden name Schäfer, she was from Geneva, Switzerland. I know that he had been living with her for some time in Geneva and also in Wiesbaden but how he made his living at that time I don’t know. Whether he was painting or not, he never talked about it.
Some time later I found out that DIEGO was doing caricatures in American Officers Clubs in France, Germany and later on also in London and Spain. He did wonderful caricatures, it took him only a few minutes to do each one and people were crazy about them, they stood in line waiting for their turn. He made a lot of money with this, I’m sure there are still many Officers who remember him. When I said to him why was he not painting or only a little, he said that he was studying people and he would start later on.
Chapter 3 Summer 1960 to February 1962
In summer 1960 I got very sick and I was in the Hospital for 3 months. I was very weak when I came out and had lost a lot of weight, so in order to get strong again Diego went with me to South France. We stayed in very good hotels, he made me eat a lot of very good food, a very calm life. At that time he did very beautiful drawings, but he did not keep them, he gave them to people in Hotels or to friends. We stayed there until November 1960.
From there I flew to Munich and stayed some weeks over Christmas in Bavaria with my family while Diego went to London. He rented a beautiful furnished apartment in Soho. In January 1961, I followed him to London. I studied English and Diego made some paintings and drawings. From time to time he made caricatures in American Officer’s clubs. He did not look for Galleries to make exhibits. When I asked him, he always said: “I`m not ready yet, I have to study more.”
The weather was very bad in London and Diego wanted to go south to the sun. So we decided to go to Spain in October 1961. We took the car and went southward, stopped in several cities and after about 1 month we arrived in the Andalusia region in a very beautiful little fishing village called Almunecar. This was an artist`s colony, all kind of artists from different countries.
We stayed until January 1962. We had a beautiful and very interesting time with long discussions, Diego also made paintings and drawings but he never kept anything, when the painting was finished he was not interested anymore and made presents to friends. He was very popular among the Spanish people also the higher class and he felt wonderful.
In February 1962 we left Spain and went to Morocco, first to Casablanca and Tangier and then he was supposed to go to Marakesch to do some work in an American Officers`Club. I had to go to Germany for personal reasons, so I flew to Munich while Diego stayed in Marakesch.
Chapter 4: Schloßgalerie and Switzerland
Diego had to stay in Marakesh until August, so I decided to take a job in a travel agency in Lugano, Switzerland. This gave me the possibility to work and also to improve my Italian. I was already able to speak, but I didn`t know the grammar, so I took private lessons. Finally in August 1962 Diego joined me in Lugano.
In Switzerland it was for the first time, where Diego was seriously looking for galleries. He went to Geneva, Bern, and also to Zurich. In Zurich he found the Schloßgalerie where the owner was very interested in showing his work. So Diego decided to stay for some time in Switzerland. We rented a boathouse at the lake of Constance close to Zurich and Diego painted. The gallery owner sold quite many paintings; but unfortunately I don`t know the names of the customers and which paintings were sold. During this period, Diego went many times to Aviano. He made arrangements for GlobeArt Kunstgalerie to show his paintings. He also did caricatures in the Officer's Club at Aviano Air Base .
At that time we never took pictures of the paintings, which is a pity. I feel very sorry, but I was young.
I had no experience and Diego did not care. If I could go back 50 years, I would do many things completely different. We stayed in Zurich until June 1963. (See Photo in Post #3)
At that time a painting was sold and brought to President John F. Kennedy, who was visiting Wiesbaden. (I don`t remember what it looked like).
In Italy, we stayed for some time in Milan, Florence, and Rome. Finally we came to a small medieval town in northern Italy, called Asolo with only 1000 inhabitants. We rented an apartment in a very old house in the middle of the town with a big terrace and Diego made his first real Studio. He mostly sold in Zurich in the Schloßgalerie.
Chapter 5: Wiesbaden, Germany. 1968 Marriage in Denmark.
In Spring 1965 Diego wanted to go to Germany and we came to Wiesbaden where he had been living for sometime with Josiane his ex-wife. We both liked Wiesbaden, so we rented an apartment in Sonnenbergerstrasse. It was a beautiful place, we got it for a very low price, but had made a contract for 5 years and agreed to renovate it. So for at least 6 months we were living in the middle of sand, concrete, and tiles. But at the end we had a beautiful high ceiling living-room with open fireplace, fantastic new bathroom and a beautiful Studio. We had hand-painted and gold-plated dining-room furniture which I still have today and many beautiful paintings.
In this period Diego found the Gallery Dahms in Wiesbaden where he exhibited and sold many paintings. He still made caricatures from time to time in Wiesbaden, Heidelberg and Ramstein. There he met Joy Naffouj, a Canadian gallery owner, who was exhibiting different artists in an art show. She was very interested in Diego’s work, so he started to give her some paintings and drawings on commission.
Since his work was selling very well, they both made a contract: so many paintings for so much money per month. I believe this was when Diego began signing with the name ”Diego.” Before he had mostly signed "A Voci" (Antonio Voci) or "D Voci" (Diego Voci). It worked quite well.
We finally decided to marry, which we did in January 68 in Denmark. As Diego did not have to bother anymore about how to sell his paintings, we decided to spend the winter in the Canary Islands. We took our car in December 1968, with lots of canvases and paints of many colors. We went to Barcelona and took the boat to Puerto del la Cruz (Tenerife). We rented a little house on top of a big house with a very big terrace. We had a beautiful view over the ocean. We had wonderful 6 months. Diego painted each day. Once a month we made a roll of the canvases and sent them to Joy and Jadat Naffouj in Landstuhl, Germany.
In March 1970 the contract of our apartment in Wiesbaden finished, the house was supposed to be sold, so Diego had the idea to move to Italy. In March 1970 we ordered a shipping company, deposited our furniture in Bavaria at my parents` place and left for Italy. We went to several places and finally rented a villa in Riccione at the Italia Adrian seaside. Diego was painting and still sending his paintings to Naffouj Gallery.
Chapter 6: "1970 - 1985"
Diego was preparing an art show in Ravenna, Italy which was organized by Galleria Cairoli from October 30th to November 10th in 1970. We had a beautiful season, Italian lifestyle, sunshine, beach, and good Italian food. After this exhibit we moved back to Germany in December of that year.
My parents were then building a house in Bavaria. Diego was drawing the plans and helped with the interior decoration. So we rented an apartment there from December 1970 until June 1972. At that time Diego still sent paintings to Naffouj, but he was not so happy anymore with the agreement, so we stopped and started doing the business ourselves.
For several years Diego and I worked together with Liliane Dussard, a French lady who had been working in Naffouj Gallery before and later on. I think in 1974 or 75 Christine Khan took over. I am still in contact with Christine.
In the meantime DIEGO and I moved from Bavaria to Schwetzingen near Heidelberg. There we had a little daughter, Alessandra (you can view a portrait Diego made of her in of the previous posts) In 1976 we moved to Taunusstein near Wiesbaden, where we bought a house and where Diego lived and worked until his death in 1985. This house is where I still live today.
During that time, in 1973, Diego and I made our first trip to the United States. We bought a car in New York and we drove across the U.S. from N.Y. to San Francisco. We went to places like New Orleans and Albuquerque. We visited several Indian pueblos, where Diego started to make sketches of the Indians, because he thought they had very interesting faces.
We planned a special trip to Colorado Springs, where a big show of Diego paintings had been organized by Colonel Brown and his wife in the beautiful Broadmore Hotel. We had met the Browns in Heidelberg. They bought a very big collection of marvelous Diego paintings and we became friends with them. They visited us in Germany several times. We later visited them again in Colorado Springs together with our little daughter Alessandra during our second big trip through the States in 1980.
On that trip in 1980 we went to N.Y. and Philadelphia where Diego has family still today. We also went to Tacoma, Washington, where Diego had an exhibit in a gallery called - Talbert`s Kleine Galerie (sp?). Then on to San Francisco, New Orleans, Albuquerque. And again we drove to Colorado Springs. Along the way, we visited with many American friends we had met in Germany. At several places, we had private shows. We both liked the United States very much.
In 1979 we had gone to Urbino, Italy where Diego made a series of very beautiful Lithographs. They were handmade on special litho stones. We stayed there for about 10 days and it was very hard work.
We also exhibited Diego’s work in Canada in 1981. One was the Goldcrest Galleries Ltd., in Columbus Center Toronto. The other was the Van Zoolingen Galleries in Edmonton.
During our travels we met many interesting and wonderful people, whether they were buying Diego’s art, or simply admiring his works. He also met many fellow artist, and in 1982 Diego even met Ernst Fuchs, a very famous Austrian painter.
In 1983 Diego had an exhibit at the Salon Panetta in Mannheim. The owner, an Italian, Figaro Fausto Panetta was a hairdresser and called himself a “Gallerist” because he was very fond of art. So when he really liked someone, he organized exhibits in his salons. We have an article that covers this show and Panetta the owner – it is in German. In brief, the two “Rome” region natives became acquaintances. When Panetta first filled the Salon with 20 DIEGO pieces, people first were uncertain. Yet, within a short time, Panetta recalls, all the paintings sold.
Diego and I made one more trip to the United States in 1984. We again went to Philadelphia to visit Diego`s family. We also chose to stop in Albuquerque and Colorado Springs to see friends. But no exhibits on this trip.
1985 was a very busy year for us in Germany. In April Diego had an exhibit in the Hotel Maritim in Darmstadt. Then an exhibit in the Staufen Galerie in Bavaria in June, as well as an exhibit in the Autohaus Feyock, a BMW-sales house. Also that June and later in September Diego had an exhibit in the Galerie Tintenviertel in Darmstadt.
During Easter in 1985 we had made time to plan a relaxing trip to Rome to visit his family there. We also planned a personal holiday in August to the island of Menorca in Spain (next to Mallorca). At that time Diego was feeling very tired. We thought a few weeks at the beach would help him to recover and feel better.
In October though Diego began with a terrible headache. During this time, his nephew Tony and his wife Lois came to visit us. We did make one last trip to Paris, but Diego was feeling very bad. Diego mostly stayed inside the Hotel. He did not even want to join us on a visit to the Louvre.
By November it was worse and Diego went to the Hospital. Then, on the 10th of December 1985, Diego died of lung cancer.