Born Jewish Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna on December 15, 1928, the artist later known as Friedensreich Hundertwasser saw most of his family killed in the Holocaust. From that horror, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose chosen name means “Peace-Kingdom Hundred-Water,” took the path of nature in his art. “There are no evils in nature,” Hundertwasser once said. “There are only evils of man.” With that philosophy, Hundertwasser looked to the example of his Austrian predecessor, Gustav Klimt. Hundertwasser takes Klimt’s organic circles and swirls even further in works such as Black Girl (above). Believing that straight lines are “the devil’s tools,” Hundertwasser created his own brand of circular logic that emphasized the organic as the solution to humanity’s ills.
Many of Hundertwasser’s paintings seem Surrealistic, such as his Antipode King (above), with its strange ruler looking out at the viewer. Hundertwasser wanted all of his works to “look out” at the viewer, creating a Surrealist dreamscape not out of the artist’s own mental workings alone but with the viewer’s needs in mind. This transautomatism democratizes Surrealism, reconciling the artist and the viewer with natural forms rather than emphasizing the discontinuities of modern existence the way Dali’s art, for example, does. I’ve always seen a debt to Paul Klee’s approach in Hundertwasser’s work as well. The deceptive simplicity of Hundertwasser’s images matches that of much of Klee’s drawings. Klee’s organic approach to art, incorporating natural forms in his unique calligraphy, parallels that of Hundertwasser, too.
Hundertwasser ventured past painting into the fields of performance art, clothing, architecture, and even plumbing. He may be the only major artist to be famous for designing a toilet, namely his Kawakawa Toilets (above, installed in 1998). In his later years, Hundertwasser became increasingly concerned over the destruction of the environment. The Kawakawa Toilets, which he installed in his adopted country of New Zealand, offer an environmentally friendly option to the modern toilet and have actually become a tourist attraction. Hundertwasser incorporated his organic philosophy into everything he did artistically, regardless of whether it was a painting or a building. When so many other modern artists looked at the events of the twentieth century and damned the darkness, Hundertwasser lit a candle of hope and healing, and even provided a place to go to the bathroom.