Hundertwasser

“To paint is to dream. When I paint, I dream. When the dream is over, I don’t remember anymore what I’ve dreamt. The painting however is there. It is the harvest of the dream.”

— Friedensreich Hundertwasser

While visiting friends and family in Germany in December, I was lucky enough to see a fantastic Hundertwasser exhibition in the “Buchheim Museum der Phantasien” in Bernried, Bavaria. I’ve been fascinated by Hundertwasser for a long time. His unconventional forms and ideas, his vivid colours, his closeness to nature and his love of beauty has always intrigued me.  Years back in Vienna I admired the Hundertwasser House, a unique apartment building, colourful and strangely shaped that features uneven floors (“an uneven floor is a melody to the feet,” Hundertwasser once said), a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Hundertwasser never lived there, but with this building he saw one of his many dreams and ideas realized by architects Joseph Krawina and Peter Pelican.

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There are other buildings where Hundertwasser was at work, e.g. the train station in Uelzen, Germany, that is known as one of the ten most beautiful train stations in the world.

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Oh, I wished I would have met him when in Vienna, or in Hamburg, where he once was invited to teach art at the same Art Academy I studied decades later, though he was uninvited shortly after from fear he might harm Hamburg’s reputation after his nude speeches.

Among artists, art historians and architects, Hundertwasser was not always popular during his lifetime. He was called a dilettante, a pleasing decorative painter, a down player, even a populist. Today we know of course that they were wrong and that Hundertwasser was in fact much ahead of his time, that if we had been brave enough and listened to him, we could have slowed down climate change and might be living in harmony with nature instead. We would have realized that his revolutionary ideas made sense, that he was as much an artist as an art theorist, a philosopher as well as an activist.  He was unique, peaceful, even shy and he preferred his artwork speak for him in loud colours and unusual forms.

So who was this man that called himself Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser?

He was born as Friedrich (Fritz) Stowasser in Vienna, Austria, in December 1928. After his father died thirteen days after his first birthday from an appendicitis, Fritz Stowasser grew up with his jewish mother. In 1935 she had him baptized catholic – just in case. When Austria joined Nazi Germany in 1938, both were made to live with his grandmother and aunts and in order to protect his relatives the young Stowasser joined the “Hitler Jugend” in 1939. In 1943, 69 of his relatives – including grandmother and aunts – were deported and murdered.

After World War II Vienna was bomb-shattered. There were ruins and craters everywhere, but Stowasser chose to not see the world in ashes and rubble, he noticed weeds grow from the cracks in the concrete and tadpoles swim in the rain filled craters. He saw life where others saw death.

The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno said in 1949, “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.” It was actually the conclusion to an essay he wrote, but this conclusion, though later revoked, pretty much explains how most post war artists felt and related to their work. They kept their focus on the incredible terror and injustices they’d witnessed, questioned civilization and provoked their viewers by showing the ugliness and the mundane. It became almost a rule for the post war artist to despise all kinds of beauty.

Not so Stowasser. He wanted to see and preserve the beauty in life and of nature. As a boy he picked flowers on his walks and pressed them between books to preserve them. But disappointed  that their vibrant colours vanished in  the process, he decided to paint the flowers to keep their brilliance forever. A talented painter from an early age on, Stowasser  enrolled at the art academy, but quit already three months into his studies in order to travel.  He wanted to see and understand life and learn everything he needed to paint through painting itself. In 1949 he called himself Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Translated from German his new first name means as much as “kingdom of peace,” his last name derived from the realization that “sto” in Russian means hundred. Hundred water.

Besides preserving beauty and nature, Hundertwasser wanted to provoke his viewers and audience to think for themselves instead of following the norm, he wanted individuals, brave enough to step out of their uniforms and comfort zones and become creative. His ideas of the 5 skins became famous and resulted him to become the artist – architect – activist that he was. Some of his ideas were implemented. Some still wait for it to happen.

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There’s a story I’m fond of that tells of Hundertwasser having had a cottage in Normandy, France, but close to his country home ran a mayor highway. Like I would, he disliked that highway. It was loud and disturbed him. So he painted his beautiful house and the gorgeous surroundings and instead of leaving it out, he included that highway as a big red line. He even painted a steamer on it. After he finished the painting, he’d made his peace with that highway and even liked it as part of his cottage life. – Therapists picked up on his brilliant method and still use it with many of their patients.

There’s much more to tell about Hundertwasser, from his ideas of recycling and composting, to his painfully slow – vegetative – process of painting, his invention of new printing methods, to sewing his own clothes, to his unique symbols he used throughout his art.

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After he died on February 19th 2000, on board of the ship Queen Elizabeth 2, he was buried in the “Garden of the Happy Dead,” New Zealand, the country where he decided to settle. Like in his theory of the ecological form of burial, a tree was planted on his grave. “In this way one has not died,” he once said, “but lives on in the tree: in one’s own physical self one gives nature back something of what we have taken away from her. Hence the good conscience and the happy dead.”

I encourage you to visit Hundertwasser.com to learn more about this unique man and artist. In the meantime I hope you’ll be inspired by some of his colourful “dunkelbunt”paintings underneath…

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Character Development

No doubt in any work of fiction beside the plot and the setting, the characters are most important. What would a story be without characters to care for, identify with or challenge us for some reason. In any writing course, workshop or at writers’ conferences you learn about character development, meaning you invent your main character – the protagonist, – but also their nemesis or antagonist, and all the other secondary characters you could ever need. You flesh them out: give them names and a physical appearances, decide on the age and ethnic  background, give them certain behaviours and follies, likes and dislikes, families, friends, pets, books, you name it. You are their creator. You invent them so perfectly, that you know about their most secret dreams and their phobias although you will never need to know that for the actual story. The secret is to not only do that for your main character, but for every single character in your story no matter how small a role they play. Well, maybe not for the guy who passes you in traffic you noticed only for his cool car… But everyone else. Yes. That’s a lot of work. Especially when down the road you decide to cut this character out because she doesn’t move the story forward and even though you were so much in love with her, she has no real purpose in your story…

I imagine this is pretty much what our Creator does with (the story of) us …

So you fleshed out all your characters, give them a role to play, lines to say, things to act on, respond to, grow at, cheer about, age on …  whatever you want. And then comes the point when you get stuck in your story… because you don’t know what your character is going to do next. He has developed a life of his own. He can surprise you, do things you never thought he would do. Honestly, even though you are his and her and its creator, you had not a clue he would say that eventually. So you have to be quiet at times and ask him, what would you like to do next? Why did you act like that? Because all of a sudden the story you plotted so perfectly changes with just one sentence. Well, yes. You could delete this sentence. Pretend he never said that and his friend or this girl or his dog didn’t respond like they did. You are their creator after all… But it’s kind of intriguing to listen to them. Watch how they get a life of their own. Come up with lines so brilliant you never thought of it. It’s fun…

I imagine this is how our Creator responds to us… 

So all of a sudden you have to come up with Plan B because A is not working anymore, because of this fight the characters had and you tolerated it and now they go separate ways and you have to give them new playmates or colleagues or partners or pets or travel companions or whatever your story is about. Perhaps your story gets much better… Or, because you are their creator, you listen to them for sometime and then you say, NO! That is NOT what I intended for you. Either I delete everything you did and said, because really, I can do that, or you are willing to apologize, and reach out and come back together so that MY story can finally happen. Is that understood?

  I imagine this is how our Creator gives us second chances, but often we don’t take them. And usually He doesn’t make us obey him, but grants us free will. Therefore he created the alphabet in all languages to come up with Plan B,C,D,E,F,… you get the picture…

Well, I know the drill in writing. I admit I all too often listen to my characters and come up with different plans and again I don’t submit to the editor and another month is passing because I rewrite instead because I do respect other people even though some of them are only invented …

Aren’t we all…?

And if writing wasn’t challenging enough, I do the same for illustrating. Well, now I do – I should add… because previously I only illustrated what I needed for a certain scene, but never bothered to flesh out my characters. I never knew that the owl that likes to serenade, also holds a grudge deep down and the cat who likes adventures, easily gets scared… How does that fit together? I don’t know. It is what it is, unless I change the characters… or their attitudes… or their sensibility… But I can only do that when I get to know them inside and out. I like them to surprise me with their inner life, ideas and emotions. And if I can’t stand them that way anymore… well, then I can change them, delete what they said… or erase them altogether. I’m their creator after all!

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Chihuly

I came across Chihuly first while still in art school. Though I remember my professor quite excited about his work, at that time his Artpark installations set near Niagara Falls in New York State, I simply respected my professor’s view and Chihuly’s work, but this artist didn’t leave me in awe.

In August I went with my daughter and our teenage guest Gabriele to explore Toronto for a few days and since our family loves and supports the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), we thought it was quite cool to storm one morning into the museum as soon as the doors opened, pass the visitors’ line-up by showing my membership card and enjoying some precious moments among the dinosaur skeletons by ourselves. After showing Gabriele the – in our eyes -most important and beloved sections of the museum, we ventured into the special exhibits and while all three of us were taken aback by the tattoo exhibit, we fell in love with the stunningly beautiful exhibit by no other but Dale Chihuly. I mean look at his work:

If Chihuly failed to put me in awe when I looked at his work in the nineties, oh boy, he sure got my attention this time!

The fantastic display of some of Chihuly’s most beautiful glass work in the ROM is on until January 17th 2017. I suggest it is worth your time when you are in the area. But if you can see his work somewhere else, make sure you don’t miss it. In the meantime you can visit him on his website at http://chihuly.com.

A Wild Weekend in the Woods

Last weekend I went camping at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, right at the shores of Lake Huron, with my daughter and our artsy friend Andrea and a trunk full of paintings. We got a campfire going and set up our tents before dark fell, but still were surprised that darkness comes quite early mid September. However, a bright full moon watched over us and illuminated our experience … until at night I woke up from my daughter crawling over my sleeping bag to zip-up our tent window because it rained 😦

Pretty much everyone at our campsite and all around Fox Way Loop slept in that next gray damp morning in nature and we finally had to hurry to transform the campsite in an art studio by setting up props to hold our art work while also getting a fire going to brew some much needed coffee before the Studio Tour started at 10 a.m., hosted by Mother Nature, the Friends of MacGregor and artists and artisans across Southern Ontario.

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The forecast predicted 40% chance of light rain and up to 0.2 cm precipitation; we could manage that, we thought. Instead we got what felt like a Monsoon. We were busy setting our “booth” up and putting artwork back under tarps or in the car, and setting up again as soon as the rain stopped only to cover things up again… and overall were surprised how many campers came out anyway to admire our work, or Emily’s fantastic “VW Van”!

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We had real troopers visiting who had wanted to take our workshops, but what do you do in the rain…? Despite our beautiful studio campsite, there was no sale… but puddles that turned into mini Tsunamis, flooding our sleeping tent and threatening Andrea’s display tent…

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Saturday night, I sadly admit, we vacated our campsite and went home for a hot shower and a lovely snooze in our own bed.

Sunday was indeed a sunny day and the world looked friendly and bright. A crowd toured Fox Way Loop and stayed for workshops, browsing artwork or admiring the VW van/tent that helped keep the conversation going. They went away with an organic apple in hand from our orchard, the one or other book, card, or painting while we listened to life music from the neighbouring campsite.

Despite Saturday’s disappointing weather, I’d like to express a big “thank-you” to the Friends of MacGregor for organizing this event and for cooking and catering delicious food at lunch time! Also for all the campers and day-trippers who came out to support us, and to all the fellow artists and supporting family members who made this unusually wild art studio tour happening! – Hope to see you again next year!

And what about you? Will you join us perhaps?

 

Competition

Whatever field of work or interest you might be in, I think competition is healthy. It prevents us – as a person, athlete, artist, entrepreneur or business – from becoming lazy or indifferent and instead inspires us to become more. More creative, more resourceful, more innovative, more interesting, more attentive, and ideally it brings out the best in us.

I frequently participate in art or writing competitions, usually not necessarily for the prizes – although they add to the appeal – but for the challenge. I love to challenge myself and competitions force me to be creative under pressure, wich often results in new ideas to be explored even beyond the competition guidelines and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Comfort zones are lovely to bask in, but life most always gets exciting only after we’ve left the comfy couch.

Recently I participated in a few writing competitions and even got “long listed” which I assume I should mention, because of the fact that our family decided to give ourselves credit for even the little achievements that come our way this year. I submitted artwork to the “Nonsuch Art On Paper Awards” Competition because the name made me smile and the idea behind it intrigued me. And when the other day I got the online catalogue of all the entries, I was stunned by the variety and brilliance of all the submitted artwork. I love my competition! But take a look for yourself by clicking on the link.

NAOPA Catalogue of Entries | Main & Station

While I wish every participating artist good luck and congratulate them on their artwork and guts to show it, I wouldn’t mind if you! crossed your fingers for me to be under the finalists with my painting(s) travelling first to Nova Scotia and after to Montreal… 🙂 But if not, oh well, I’ll submit to another competition

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“Save the Whales,” was juried in and sold at the international 2014 Painting on the Edge Exhibition in Vancouver, BC

What about you? How do you push yourself out of your comfort zone?

Work in Progress

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Not far from where I live is the Bruce Peninsula with a tiny village at it’s very tip called Tobermory. From Tobermory goes a ferry to Manitoulin Island, the biggest fresh water island in the world. The water around Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula – shallow towards the east and deep with steep cliffs on the west toward the Georgian Bay – is pristine and cold and refreshes the body and the spirit for its amazing clarity and beauty. It is an artists’ and divers’ paradise for the landscape and many well preserved shipwrecks that lay off the shores and can be spotted from the land and discovered up close while diving around. On the rocks of the Bruce Peninsula  grow some of the oldest trees in the world, growing only a few inches each year and its forests are home to various wild life including the rattle snake and the brown bear.

My artwork above is inspired by the beautiful and challenging landscape found on the Bruce Peninsula. So far I’m pleased with the roughs. Now I need to add some colour to give justice to its beauty …

Inspiration is Everywhere

In my drawing classes the first thing I try to teach my students is that inspiration and motives are nothing we have to search for, they are everywhere. Don’t look too far, don’t look for big, when the things in front of you can be all you ever wanted. I had an art professor who only painted swans for half a year, because this is what she saw when she looked out of her apartment window. Other artists I know paint beautiful still lives arranging their everyday tools like scissors, pens and paint tubes. Ever painted your food? – You might annoy your company, but it’s worth trying when you eat alone…

I painted animals for years. I still do! Do you want to know why? – Because I love animals, but also because this is the view from my studio window:

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Well, you could argue I only have animals so that I can paint them 🙂 … however, this is what the results might look like, depending on the view:

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or my exploration mood…

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What inspires you? Where do you find your motives?