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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


First of all, today's post is the 'weighty eighty' – the eightieth post in this column since its inception twenty months ago. For this auspicious event, I have chosen to write about a prolific and provocative twentieth-century artist whose work is as colourful as his name, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

CATHEDRAL (1), MARRAKECH - Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1951)

CATHEDRAL (1), MARRAKECH - Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1951)

At Christmas, I received a card, bearing the above magnificent image, from a family member, who holds a seemingly unlimited collection of wonderfully obscure art cards, having grown up in an artistic family in the German Democratic Republic. If you want to know more about this family, read about Elisabeth Schettler at this link!

More on Hundertwasser later.

One of my favourite weekend pastimes is visiting car boot sales with my granddaughter. Maia gets an ice lolly and other treats and I root out a vintage camera for a few pounds if I'm lucky or, in the case of yesterday's visit, a small haul of books. Yesterday's collection was eclectic – a set of articles on Tolstoi written by Lenin, a small volume about Astral Projection, and a very austere looking 1938 Pelican publication, ART IN ENGLAND, by R.S. Lambert, complete with '32 photogravure plates' – all of them in severe, high-contrast black and white!

The latter book consists of some pretty hectoring pronouncements, and an entire chapter devoted to a terse 1935 broadcast discussion between the artist and critic Eric Newton and the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, entitled THIS MODERNISMUS.

EN: I am glad to have the opportunity of meeting the author of MODERNISMUS. (Macmillan and co LTD). I find it very stimulating, but I must confess that with many of the things that you say in it I disagree heartily.

SIR RG: I quite expect you too...I am prepared to stand by everything I said in that book.

As the barbed exchange continues, Newton accuses Blomfield of contributing to a ruinous state of affairs whereby people will stop buying art! Blomfield retorts tetchily by asserting that works by Monsieur Picasso have recently changed hands at between two and three thousand pounds!

Two and three thousand pounds!

Let us move on from these bickering gentlemen, with their blustering about 'crowds of mediocrities' and suchlike.

A gentler thought appears in a chapter by the great Henry Moore, who opines that “It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work”.

Nicely put; these words convey something I feel strongly, that I do not want to explain my art. David Bowie famously said that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”.

Absolutely! Quite how I will fare when I have to engage in a 'Meet The Artist' evening in the near future remains to be seen!

Let us return now to Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser.

Full frontal portrait photo of Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Hundertwasser, whose birth name was Friedrich Stowasser, chose his pseudonym carefully. 'Sto', the first syllable of his family name derives from a Slavic word meaning 'hundred' and 'wasser' means water in German. To the adapted surname he added three preceding names, arriving at an appellation that translates as Peace-realm Rainy-day Darkly multi-coloured Hundred-water!

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was born in Vienna in 1928, dying in 2000 aboard the QE2 passenger ship. His Jewish family avoided Nazi persecution by posing as Christians. Hundertwasser's father had been a Catholic, so the young Friedrich was baptised into that faith, leading him to regard himself as a 'half-Jew'.

Hundertwasser displayed prodigious artistic gifts as a child, soon becoming instantly recognisable for his brightly coloured paintings.

THE BIG WAY - Painting by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1955)

THE BIG WAY - Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1955)

His legacy, quite apart from paintings, is enormous, encompassing mosaic and a profusion of other disciplines and creative directions. From the 1950s, Hundertwasser became most famous for his pioneering architecture which featured flowing, spiral designs and constructions intended to be in harmony with nature; a style notably different from that of the puritanical Edwardian Blomfield, mentioned above.

The Kunsthaus/Hundertwasser Museum, Vienna

The Kunsthaus, Vienna, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser

In Hundertwasser's vision, planting trees in urban environments was obligatory, as be believed human misery to be derived from what he saw as the soulless, barren and monotonous elements present in much modern architecture. He may be the originator of the roof-garden; he was certainly a strong advocate for its importance.

The 'Hundertwasserhaus', the architect's social housing project, is one of Vienna's best-loved tourist attractions.

The Hundertwasserhaus, Vienna, social housing complete with roof-garden

The Hundertwasserhaus, Vienna, complete with roof-garden

Hundertwasser left his creative mark in his adopted homeland, New Zealand, with an arts centre named after him and, a few kilometres up the road, what must be the most exuberantly beautiful and ornate toilet block in the world!

The Hundertwasser Toilets, Kamakawa, New Zealand

The Hundertwasser Toilets, Kamakawa, New Zealand

In 1967 and 1968, Hundertwasser delivered his famous 'Naked Speeches', in which he appeared unclothed and proclaimed beliefs in the 'three skins' of human beings – the epidermis, the clothing and the dwelling-place. He advocated the planting of a tree atop a grave, instead of a headstone, and when he was buried in New Zealand, a tulip tree was planted where he was laid to rest.

SHIP ASHORE - Painting by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1995)

SHIP ASHORE - Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1995)

Photo portrait of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, side view

Some may decry Friedensreich Hundertwasser as a wacky eccentric, even an attention-seeker. It is my opposing belief that humanity needs such visionaries, convention-challengers, joyously prolific creators and extravagantly daring thinkers. Hundertwasser was surely all of those. His work moves me deeply. He also possessed one of the most beautiful names in all Art!



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