Sunday 17 August 2014


“When one dreams alone, it’s just a dream. When many dream together, it’s the beginning of a new reality” – F. Hundertwasser

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) is our artist for Art Sunday. He was an Austrian-born painter, decorative artist, architect and spiritual ecologist (real name Friedrich Stowasser) consistently worked with spiral motifs, primitive forms, spectral colours, and repetitive patterns. Although influenced by other Viennese artists (Klimt immediately springs to mind), Hundertwasser’s individualistic work was never associated with any formal school of painting.

Hundertwasser was born to a Jewish mother and a Christian father. He was baptised in 1937 and supposedly joined the Hitler Youth Corps in 1941. In 1943 About 70 of his maternal relatives were deported and killed in Nazi concentration camps. During the war and the Russian occupation Hundertwasser lived in a Viennese cellar with his mother. Hundertwasser married in 1958, while in Gibraltar, and was subsequently divorced in 1960. In 1962, after spending a year in Japan, he married Juuko Ikewada in Venice. They were divorced four years later.

Hundertwasser is viewed as an international, very unconventional and independent artist. He travelled, lived, and worked in various locations throughout Europe, the East, North Africa, New Zealand, and Australia and was never formally affiliated with any “-ism” of painting. In 1949 he selected and assumed the name Hundertwasser (Hundred-Water), and in 1969 Friedensreich (Kingdom-of-Peace), often adding Regenstag (Rainy Day), a name that he originally invented for the converted sailing ship upon which he sometimes lived.

From 1936 to 1937 Hundertwasser attended Montessori School in Vienna, a learning experience to which he would later credit the choice of colour in his paintings. His formal art training included three months at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1948 and a day at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1950. As a mature artist he professed an intense dislike for all art theory, including colour theory. Hundertwasser believed that painting is a religious experience. Opting always for spiritualism over rationalism, he preferred to be viewed as a “magician of vegetation”. In 1954 the artist developed a quasi-mystical philosophy of artistic creation and perception called “Transautomatism” which he later developed into a “Grammar of Vision”.

Hundertwasser's early paintings were heavily influenced by the Vienna Secession tradition of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. His works from 1949 through 1953 also display close affinity with well-known paintings by Paul Klee. In 1953 the spiral motif first appeared in his work and became the most consistent formal element of his mature style. The artist, who first recognised the spiral while viewing a film called “Imagery of the Insane”, defined the motif as a “biological spiral” and “a symbol of life”. Throughout his career Hundertwasser used the six spectral colours almost exclusively. His later work combined these with metallic colours such as gold, silver, bronze, or aluminium. His forms are archaic and primitive and his picture surfaces are often covered by repetitive patterns.

A diverse artist, Hundertwasser also designed a church in 1987 and a day-care centre in Frankfurt, Germany (1987). He created postage stamp designs for Austria, Senegal, and the Cape Verde Islands. He also designed relief medallions for the Austrian Mint, environmental posters donated to various environmental groups, and various architectural models. Hundertwasser had numerous personal exhibitions of his work around the world, received many awards, including the Austrian State Award for Arts in 1980 and the Austrian Protection of Nature Award in 1981. He resided in Vienna for most of his life.

The painting above is a personal favourite of mine and is from 1966, called “The End of Night”. There is a blending of the abstract with the representational, reality with dream, symbolism with transcendentalism. There is enough mystery and riotous colour in the painting to engage and haunt one. It was the artist’s intention to offer his viewers a glimpse of Paradise, constructed while the creator is in a dream state. The work is rarely disturbing and almost always highly decorative. Hundertwasser made no attempt to identify universals with his primitivised forms, and as a result his language remains relatively private. The audience is given only limited access to the painter's fantasy experiences. Hundertwasser’s dreams were more than a little repetitive, but usually pleasant.