Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Landau Fine Art

During his first one-man show at the Vienna Art Club in 1952, Hundertwasser, then 23 years old, delivered a speech entitled “We Must Free Ourselves From the Bluff Civilization.” Now a permanent resident of Kaurinui, New Zealand, he planted over 60,000 trees of diverse species on his property to stimulate diversity. Ever since, Hundertwasser the painter, protoecologist, and architect has been transforming urban and industrial sites as part of his ongoing crusade for a more humanized environment. These include an AGIP gas station in Vienna with grassy, tree-lined roofs, a fairytale-like kindergarten in Hedderheim, Frankfurt, and the Hundertwasser Haus in Vienna whose roof gardens and terraces have over 900 tons of earth and 530 varieties of trees and shrubs growing on them.

Hundertwasser’s first one-man exhibition in a private gallery since 1982 included over forty of his mixed-media and print work, half from the ’80s and ’90s. The spiral motifs he first used in 1953, the organic grids and brightly colored harmonies, and the applied multimedia techniques of his architectural designs predominate in these pieces, which reflect Hundertwasser’s ongoing obsession and painterly polemic against the straight line. As Hundertwasser states: “The straight line is a man-made danger. There are so many lines, millions of lines, but only one of them is deadly and that is the straight line drawn with a ruler.”

Moved instantaneously along the electronic superhighway from one hemisphere to another, The 30 Day Fax Painting, 1992-93, is a collage of 30 fax pieces Hundertwasser sent daily from New Zealand to Vienna between October 2nd and October 30th in 1992. Neutralized by the E-mail process, the mediatized fax fragments that became The 30 Day Fax Painting were subsequently photocopied onto drawing paper, fixed onto linen with wallpaper glue to which a variety of media were applied: white chalk, zinc primer, watercolor, china ink, lacquer, and pieces of gold and silver foil. By humanizing these electronic missives, and transforming them into a utopian city scene, Hundertwasser ironically engendered a sense of permanence with a work whose style distantly echoes that of Paul Klee and Gustav Klimt.

Tree Tenants do not Sleep, 1973, is classic Hundertwasser, a work that evolved from an event at the Triennale di Milano where Hundertwasser planted 12 trees with humus and soil to absorb the water runoff usually displaced by asphalt and concrete in windows on the Via Manzoni. The anthropomorphized face of one of Hundertwasser’s “tree tenants,” set amid a collectivity of similar but individualized tree images, comes to symbolize those ecological processes that continue to go on around us, whether we are conscious of them or not. Catch a Falling Star, 1993, is a sublimely sensitive work that takes ordinary textures, simple design shapes, and other visual signifiers and transforms them into a silent snowfall in the solitude of a forest.

Hundertwasser’s latest works mark the ripening of the sophisticated “primitivism” and saturated color that characterizes his best work. It is something only a few artists of this century have been able to accomplish—notably Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse—yet the endlessly repeating, varied organic motifs we see in these works are uniquely Hundertwasser’s. Proffering images of environmental harmony, recycling color, form and texture in an age of environmental pessimism, Hundertwasser presents us with his own personal vision of a paradis terrestre where cathartic design and chaotic naturalism meet environmental integration.

John K. Grande