Hundertwasser and the Gobelin

Riedl Fritz

Perhaps it is sacrilegious to describe some of Hundertwasser’s paintings as painted weavings, but that he had a deep involvement in this ancient craft of Homo Ludens which predates the creation of images by means of the use of paint is unquestioned. Many of his structures, the notion of the line and the textural sensuousness of color surfaces are reminiscent of weaving, as is the sense of craftsmanship, his way of working, at least that was certainly the case at the time I once had the opportunity to watch him at work. Hundertwasser’s strong affinity with weaving suggests that from the first time he sat down at a loom, even though this event came about as the result of a bet, he was intuitively able to weave a gobelin. My impression of Hundertwasser was of someone coming from very far away.

I can still visualize him in a bright corner of his otherwise dark apartment on the Danube canal, sitting at his loom, wearing the djellabah which he had brought from Morocco, very slim, very serious, both young and ancient at the same time. Explanations were unnecessary, he was simply able to weave. The time was the 1950s, for those of us who were young at that time, in our memories an exalted period. We were all slightly ecstatic. In the windows as well as in an old army locker balls of paper were accumulating in anticipation of the approaching winter when he would use them like briquettes to provide heat. When asked what the gobelin depicted, he would remain mysteriously silent. Two feet were recognizable, and many windows, later the legs appeared and grew and grew – and very late the yellow ray was discernable. In fact everything originated from this local boy – a magic carpet that took off into the air.
When twenty years later, someone asked me in Mexico which famous European painter should be recruited in order to make the new workshop internationally known, my unequivocal response was Hundertwasser. However, I suspected that after already having produced hundreds of beautiful gobelins he would not be interested. But he was willing and thus began an experiment with Mexican weavers, young mestizos whose hands held skills long lost in other places. Mexican folk art uses a weave comparable to that in eastern European kelims, the sarape, which is produced in many places. Initially, there were some difficulties with certain formal elements, however, the weavers were very familiar with the spiral and used similar colors; in fact, Mexico is quite Hundertwasser-like, they too, come from far back.
Cultural circles overlap where the roots interweave which is the essence of weaving. There is an individuality to manual work and unlike in mechanized production each work is unique; it is hard for a weaver to make the exact same work twice. It is also not unusual for a weaver to discontinue work on a given piece and refuse to return to it when certain forms begin to emerge which frighten him or her. The supernatural is still a part of their life and the world of form and color coexists with that realm.
Naturally, the young weavers are initially required to submit to the directions of the master magician Hundertwasser, but after completing a six-year apprenticeship, they are free to make their own interpretations. We have given up the cartoon and employ a simple grid system in which the weaver draws directly onto the warp, a template on which the forms will develop during the weaving process. Each weaver is fully responsible for his interpretation and on completion, the gobelin is submitted for critique by the entire team. Vivid weavings from the individual are expected to emerge not translations of Hundertwasser images. The Mexican weavers continue today what the painter had started in 1950: Hundertwasser’s woven oeuvre.