"Everyone should make his own architecture; he should be able to construct what he likes, with feathers, grass or paper, even if the building collapses."
Friedensreich Hundertwasser was born in 1928 in the city of Vienna. Originally he was born as Friedrich Stowasser but later changed his name to the German equivalent of “Peaceful-Kingdom/Realm Hundred-Water” as a reaction to the world around him. Before he reached the age of one his father died as an officer in WWI. In WWII his Jewish mother lost almost all of her relatives when they were deported and killed. image:© Darmstadt (Sascha Noyes)
As a child Hundertwasser attended a Montessori school in Vienna. This opened his eye to the use of color and respect for the outdoor world. Later on he studied for three months at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in 1948, where he gained his only formal artistic training. He then travelled all over… to Tunis, Japan, Paris, Toscana etc. This shaped both his art and later his architectural style. He commented once that he was greatly influenced by Arabic music, an interest that he picked up while travelling in Morocco. His travels also lead him to Venice where he bought an old sailboat and painted Regentag (Rainy Day) on its bow. He later bought a piece of land in New Zealand..
“The straight line is something cowardly drawn with a rule, without thought or feeling;
it is a line which does not exist in nature…. The straight line is the forbidden fruit.”
Considered a “colorist” painter he used egg tempera, metallic dust, pieces of fabric or paper, earth, ground glass/pottery and finished works often with a glaze of oil. He was scornful of the modernism at the time and was influenced by the art nouveau period, incorporating swirling spirals like those of Gustav Klimt into his work. This was a highly decorative approach to art, something that was not well received at first, but did eventually become immensely popular around the world. After exhibitions in 1951 he had made a name for himself and in 1959 he was offered a lecturing position in Hamburg.
While lecturing in Hamburg he began to criticize architecture in having too many horizontals and verticals and straight lines, these he said were “the tool of the devil.” He even ridiculed symmetry by wearing different coloured socks. Schools of architecture to him were only a professional conspiracy because they wouldn’t allow amateures to practice. Eventually he put his distaste of traditional architecture to the pad and designed many alternative buildings. His style differed little from his paintings and showed influence of Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona as well as some of the Jugendstil architects. One of his most well known buildings is the Hundertwasser House in Vienna that was built 1983-1986. image:© Darmstadt (Sascha Noyes)
“ What we lack is a peace treaty with nature.”
His revolutionary ecological and philosophical ideas made him well known with projects such as his work with the Jewish National Fund. He dedicated a poster of “Among the Trees You Are Home” with the goal of buying trees for the reforestation of the Negev Dessert in Israel with the profits. His philosophy changed over the years. At one point he felt rather strongly that coins, stamps and flags are a large piece of a nation’s identity and should be well designed. As a child he also had an interest in postage stamps and sent letters all over the world to “unknown stamp collectors” and received letters from Ireland, India, Morocco and other places. This is what he said made him want to become a painter. “I wanted to paint small pictures of this kind, as colorful, as full of life, as beautiful as postage stamps and to conquer the world with them. And for the longest time I was unhappy and dissatisfied because the pictures I painted did not measure up to the stamps.”
He lived in both Vienna and New Zealand and was on his way back to Europe when he died from a heart attack aboard the Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 at age 71.