Friedensreich Hundertwasser and creative processes

I am currently in Kiel in northern Germany, and yesterday I went to the Hundertwasser exhibition in the Ostseehalle (that’s what everyone still calls it, despite the sponsoring bank insisting on naming it after itself…!). It was fantastic – do go if you’re anywhere near it!

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) came across as somewhat eccentric but fantastically creative, and applied his art to the ‘real world’, designing stamps, number plates, humus toilets, buildings/windows and much more, as well as creating more abstract imagery. The exhibition was extremely engaging, and I want to point to two significant thoughts that emerged for me.

A relative of mine had a large mounted reproduction print by Hundertwasser, L’expulsion, on her living room wall, and left it to me when she died… so it’s now hanging on my living room wall (sadly, it’s not a “real” Hundertwasser…!). I have always loved this image, though the colours on my print are different: they are richer, more saturated, than the image I’ve linked to and that was in the exhibition. In fact, many of his images were created in different colour palettes, though it is not clear to me what prompted him to choose the varying colour schemes. This is interesting to me: he seems to have seen various final possibilities for his images, none completely definitive, though all existing within certain fixed parameters. So often I try to get to one final image, but perhaps I should be more open to the multiplicity of possibilities that each image is offering me.

Secondly, it seemed to me that Hundertwasser had a perfect understanding of the theory and practice of pre-visualisation (what Steve Coleman memorably describes as taking a photograph you cannot see; I’ve also found Bruce Percy’s books to be most helpful on this topic) – he knew just what he was aiming for, and created images or objects that corresponded to an image he already understood and had discerned in some form. I don’t know that this was necessarily in the sense that the completed artwork was in some way visible to him in his imagination, but certain principles or guidelines – such as his understanding of the importance of spirals and his antipathy to straight lines – seem to have helped him to understand what he was working towards and what he wanted to reach with his art. In the same way, I think we as photographers need to know what we’re aiming for and what is guiding our creation of images, as this will help us in knowing what it is we are trying to achieve.

I think it is great to pick up on these questions in other art forms. I’m in the process of creating new image galleries to go online here sometime soon, and it’s helpful to be reminded of some of these themes as I try to think about the narrative underpinning images and image collections, however much of a novice I might be in this area.

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4 thoughts on “Friedensreich Hundertwasser and creative processes

  1. Kram Namloc

    Hundertwasser was a great artist and one of my favorites. He called his paintings “vegetative” in that they grew spontaneously. I do not think that they were pre-visualized (but I can’t say for certain).

    Thanks for sharing this, I’m a photographer too and work both ways, in a pre-visualized way and in a spontaneous improvisational way.

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to comment.

      To mix metaphors a bit: my sense was that he knew the direction of travel and could visualise his destination, even if he didn’t know exactly what the end result would look like. I think that’s a form of pre-visualisation too, and that’s why I felt I could use the word in thinking about his work. Yes, he did talk about the growth of paintings etc. as you describe here, but I don’t see this as contradicting a sense of pre-visualisation; I wasn’t trying to suggest that he “saw” the completed image in his mind as he began each piece.

      Stimulating portfolio you have there, by the way! 🙂

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