Udo Burkhardt in his studio with two of his paintings, including the Picasso and Me portrait. / SUR

A lifelong passion for painting, making music and writing

Udo Burkhardt has escaped East Germany, his mother-in-law and the British weather, but he has always kept his creative talents alive

SUR

Udo Burkhardt has spent over 30 years settled in Malaga province, doing what he loves most, which is painting and making music.

However, the 74-year-old's life did not start in quite the same, idyllic way. Aged six, he and his family fled East Germany and they continued to move around throughout Udo's childhood as his father found work.

They stayed in refugee camps and Udo went to countless schools - in the Black Forest, Offenbach and other places.

He finished school in 1962 and went into window decorating. However, after a serious bike accident which resulted in nine months in hospital he was told he could «never climb a ladder again» and he had to look for another profession.

Showing his creative skills, Udo went into graphic design. «I was told I needed to find a job where I could sit,» he recalls.

Udo comes from a creative family; among the four brothers are another graphic designer and a musician.

It was during this time that he started to make quite a name for himself in the local music industry and was best known for a German cover of a Johnny Hallyday song. But he admits that his real passion at the time was British pop music. «The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Tom Jones were all big then,» he says.

Life took another twist when he met Margarita, his wife to be. Unfortunately his future mother-in-law didn't approve of this «singer-decorator» and Udo says it was a case of «either we split or run».

«You had to be 21 to get married in Germany at the time, but only 18 in England. In fact we could have gone to Gretna Green where you only had to be 16, but Margarita was 18, so England was OK,» he remembers.

Through his music, Udo had contacts in Bournemouth, so the young couple eloped to the town, stayed there enough time to get married and returned to Germany. There, their elopement had caused «quite a scandal», not least with the disapproving mother-in-law, who, to make matters worse, also happened to be a marriage registrar there! «She didn't think it was so funny,» laughs Udo.

Margarita and Udo opened a tea room in their village and it was very successful. However, the long hours and stress led them to lease the business and go back to the south coast of England, where they had married just a few years before.

It didn't take long for the couple to get fed up of the English weather and, after a holiday to Fuengirola in the mid 1980s, they decided to move to the Costa del Sol permanently.

Since then, the couple have lived in Mijas, Alhaurín el Grande and Gaucín, and have been in Ronda since 2000.

Udo spends his time painting and recording music, singing in German and English. He admits he likes «ballads, romantic music» and confesses that he prefers to record music rather than sing live. «I'm not a showman,» he acknowledges.

The artist has also held a number of exhibitions in the province over the years and his work can currently be seen at in Ronda. The show is a collection of 22 paintings using acrylic and oils on plywood and canvas, as well as some of his graphic design.

One of the pieces is entitled Picasso and Me and is a portrait merging the Malaga-born iconic artist and Udo. «It's a bit cheeky,» laughs Udo, «And I suppose there is a slight physical resemblance because we're both bald.»

Laughing about how artists tend to became famous posthumously, Udo says, «I'm not the best painter or musician, I try to be diverse and that comes at the expense of success in life.»

Udo has also turned his hand to writing over the years and has penned four books including his own life experiences. He wrote Elope to help him cope when Margarita was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013. She has since made a full recovery, Udo confirms.

Udo and Margarita plan to stay in Ronda and, now retired, the artist and musician says if they move again it will be to the nearby countryside with their cats, «And we might get some chickens,» he concludes, laughing.

Udo's exhibition is open until 30 October at the Blanco y Negro café on Calle Pozo, Ronda, from Monday to Friday 7.30am to 2pm and Saturday until 1pm.