"VENUS RISING" - Wolfgang Widmoser in Jakarta

Wolfgang Widmoser
Wolfgang Widmoser, considered by many already as the best living artists in Ubud now stretches his wings further. His exhibition "VENUS RISING" is opening on November 21 at the Bentara Budaya in Jakarta. Diana Darling one of Ubud's best known authors interviewed him on this occasion for the Yak Magazine. The slogan of the Yak, 'The lighter and darker sides of Bali, Asia's fashionable playground' could be easily coined on Wolfgang Widmoser as well. Over to Diana:

WOLFGANG Widmoser – an Austrian painter living in Ubud – is an artist who may, or may, not want to frighten you. If you ask him, he will deflect discussion about fear, and talk instead about colour theory and projective geometry and the instability of the horizon as a measure of the infinite – and as he does so, you wonder if there is anything he is afraid of .

The work is figurative virtuosity manipulated to extremes. The forms of familiar objects – especially faces, but also martini glasses and natural objects – are stretched and twisted far beyond the normal view of the eye, and then rendered with tremendous painterly exactitude, as if asking the viewer to think again about the reality of what he sees.

Wolfgang refers to this approach as ‘fantastic realism'. He studied with Salvador Dali, the planet's most famous manipulator of reality in paint. But Wolfgang says that Dali didn't really understand the full power of glazes.
Anik moon 11

Diana: So what's this thing about glazes?

Widmoser: It's an old European technique for layering coloured transparencies that will allow the original colour to appear to the human eye as it would be in nature, not from pigment but from natural light.

Do you really believe that?

Widmoser: Of course. European painters have known this for hundreds of years – especially Dutch and Italian artists. Goethe made the best attempt to explain it in his colour theory. This knowledge is hard to find in art academies today. I was lucky to study with Prof. Ernst Fuchs in Vienna who redeveloped the ancient technique of egg-tempera highlighting and oil glazes that give paintings this rich and shining quality.

Some would say that the colours are pushed – although not perhaps as much as their forms are.

Widmoser: Pushing the colour or the forms is a prerogative of painting.

Is this about the difference between painting and photography?

Widmoser: It could be. Before photography, painting had the job of reporting reality, and it was usually an official view of reality, commissioned by the church or the state. But even before photography, painters – starting with Giotto – began to be concerned with not just reality but their view of reality, the famous Rembrandt painting <em>Night Watch</em> is first a Rembrandt and second a picture of its patrons. Caravaggio painted the Madonna with the face of his maid, to give her the expressiveness of an individual. With Impressionism, the painter's vision became the subject itself.

So why do you distort faces or objects?

Widmoser: I'm intensifying the image. I'm trying to make the viewer see differently in order to discover the beauty of the image.

DianaThe painting of your wife "Diana Widmoser", looks more like Diana than her photograph.

Widmoser: Exactly. Distortion is also about showing changes in time. That was the concern of the Mannerists.

Is that the joke behind Dali's melting watches?

Widmoser: I think so. Painting is also about action. It's what you see in brushstrokes or other actions of applying paint. Velasquez painted hair with just a brushstroke.

It's clear from your paintings that you draw wonderfully. Picasso is supposed to have said that it takes a year to learn to paint and 20 years to learn to draw. How important do you think is drawing to painting? How important is drawing for art students, even if they don't want to use figurative representation in their art?

Widmoser: Of course a realist painter has to develop his drawing skills and in that sense painting and drawing are the same. But drawing can also be an art form in itself where you develop a certain style, for example with smooth or edgy charcoal lines, and it's interesting to notice that these black lines on white paper may look exactly like a face we recognise. For an abstract painter though, and likewise for a child, it might be an obstacle because their art lives from a more spontaneous source, and the hand follows an invisible pattern, creating a reality instead of representing one.

You refer to the images of Papuan faces as 'gods'. Why?

Widmoser: Manipulating these faces gives them this archetypal character; so looking for appropriate titles I came upon Greek mythology and there it was: the God of Fire, the Goddess of Beauty – the cosmos was ordered.

Girl with blue planetsIs art a way of finding (or proposing) order in the cosmos? And if so, how does art differ in this from religion?

Widmoser: I think that's the reason why man develops art. Since the early cave paintings it's an attempt to make the world conscious and find out how everything works. Magic, Art, Technology and Religion were the same once, and relatively late in history they split up into different categories. Art is an open system and we might find new views and a new perspective around every corner. Religion, at least in its established forms, seems to have found the answers already and therefore tends to be in conflict with other answers. The truth of art lies within its quality and that means freedom. It is always a proposal – convincing only through its quality, an invitation to see things in a new way.

Can art be atheistic?

Widmoser: I don't know. If there's no God, I am sure an artist will invent one.

What is the cycle called 'Abstract Realism' about?

Widmoser: To me all painting is abstract, an order of coloured shapes on canvas. Looking closely at my palette one day, I discovered strange landscapes – cracks like the brushstrokes of a Zen master, pink rivers and green shady valleys, dragon lakes in the desert. The thick blobs of colour are painted flat, with shadows and glancing light. I like to create illusions.

What is your fascination with water lilies?

Widmoser: In a lily pond, the whole world is present. Life comes from water, there's growth and decay, the sky. Even remote galaxies are reflected on its surface, and the sun is housed by every dewdrop on a shiny blossom.

Girl with a crown of starsWhat is the most difficult thing to paint?

Widmoser: Nothing is difficult. You just have to take time and look at things. It's all there. It's all obvious – light, shadow, structure. But I cannot paint something I don't see.

Tell us about your interest in bamboo architecture.

Widmoser: Architecture would be a tremendous chance to enhance the environment. I'm always dreaming about cities for human beings with free flowing shapes, rooflines like flowers – a city that is lightweight and elegant and transparent, like glazes. Bamboo as a structural material has all these qualities – and in combination with tensile roofs, my dream could materialise.

Are you religious?

Widmoser: Yes. I believe there's more to the world than meets the eye, and I enjoy reaching higher grounds. Connecting with the spiritual world seems to be a must in our turbulent times.

What makes a person sexy?

Widmoser: For me everything is sexy, a shell, a glass ball, bananas, a glass of champagne, a lake in the early morning sun. I've always been fascinated by women, so I choose this as the subject of my next exhibition: Venus Rising, at the Bentara Budaya in Jakarta, opening on 21 November 2007.

For more about Wolfgang Widmoser see
Girl with glassplanets
Widmoser; Girl with glassplanets
All paintings used for this article have been created by Wolfgang Widmoser in 2007 and will be on display in his upcoming Exhibition "VENUS RISING", November 21-30 2007, Bentara Budaya, Jakarta