“I have a plentitude of art, wanting for time”
If you’ve had the pleasure to meet Linde Waber in person, this sentiment will ring true. Years ago an artist and friend called her “powerhouse Linde”- and she keeps right on going to this day. Bursting with energy she travels the world from Zwettl to Lhasa, visits artists, plans projects, books, and exhibitions, visits grandchildren, prepares feasts for her guests, engages in the activities of “her” Augartenviertel* – and still finds the time to work on her art each and every day. And all that at such a level that galleries from Paris to Tokyo are pushing for exhibitions. She’s going on 70? – unbelievable!
At this pace, a lot of art emerged over the course of five decades. Enough, in fact, to fill 3 museums. It seems utterly impossible to capture this body of work in one single exhibition. Nevertheless, the Leopold Museum has ventured into this experiment and dedicates a first comprehensive retrospective to this visual artist of international acclaim. It is an attempt to condense a complex storyline into a short plot summary, to reduce a feature-length film to a few essential scenes. By necessity, much has to remain fragmentary. A lot of it feels like brief, momentary glimpses – but in sequence one discovers that there’s a plot, a developing story arc, and a female lead to hold it all together. In supporting roles are the locations. And her friends. All with and ensemble cast.
First Scene: An Oskar and a knitted tie
Starting point for the exhibition are the wood cuts of the 60s and 70s, which first raised her profile. She got into the Viennese Academy without problems: Serguis Pauser, professor at the time, commented on her portfolio: “The girl has talent.” And he was right! By the way, the portfolio was submitted by her mother, who never had any patience for objections. While other parents use all kinds of tricks to discourage their kids from studying art, and try to push them into finance, the opposite happened here. An artistic grandfather, an energetic mother, and a famous aunt, Luise Ulrich, a star of German cinema – a family like that had to produce an artist. So, Linde attended the Academy in Vienna from 1958 to 1964, even if she was lacking enthusiasm: “I didn’t draw or learn very much. Mainly I went out, threw myself into life, knitted ties for my various admirers. Skiing and my holidays in France and England were the highlights of my student days.” She freely admitted later on. Notable exceptions were the famous “Evening Nudes” with Herbert Böckl and the Summer Academy 1961 with Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg. To this day she raves about his charisma, but unfortunately it is not known whether he also received a knitted tie. In any case, the famous painter observed at the end of the summer:” Girlie, you really saw something here!” and released her with a prize into the rest of her artistic life. She has received many more prizes since then – including the Great Golden Medal of Honour from the Association of Austrian Artists, but never again an “Oskar”
Second Scene: The star, diving in head first
In 1970, a stipend brought the artist to Japan for a year, where she engaged herself intensively with the traditional woodcutting technique of Ukiyo-e in the workshop of Tetsuo Yoneda, but also took in the foreign culture and the metropolis of Tokyo. Linde Waber herself comments on this period: “1970 was my plunge into art”. And she didn’t just learn to swim in that particular pool, she finally found herself in her element: ”Until 1970 I viewed my involvement with more on the playful side. Somehow I always felt that I could stop at any time; sure it had become an important part of my life, but it wasn’t yet the fundamental necessity it is today.” The foreign culture, the mysterious Japanese calligraphy, and the technique of woodcuts never let her go: ”Wood is pleasant to the touch, prints really well, and I really enjoyed visualizing carefully how the 3 plates would add up to a single image.”
Third Scene: The big city, Japanese symbols on center stage, hard to read
After her return to Vienna she created masterful color woodcuts, which rapidly brought her substantial recognition and were exhibited with great success in the Museum for Applied Arts in 1974. While her woodcuts from the “Pre-Japan Period” were mostly figurative, she moved further and further towards abstraction in subsequent years. Her preferred subject was the big city, or in her own words: ”The problem of the big city as my personal environment”. To this day she maintained her fascination with foreign, cryptic symbols – and therefore with Asian calligraphy – and she continues to walk the line between the legible and the illegible, between object and abstraction.
Fourth Scene: Small hands and a drawing board
Since the mid-1970s , drawing took over as the main form of artistic expression for Linde. She identifies two reasons for this: She rapidly looses interest in a technique, subject, or style whenever the art world starts demanding it. As soon as everybody starts counting on more of the same, she stops and searches for something new. Also, staring in 1974 there were two little hands, and from 1977 onward even four little hands, at home in her studio, and the sharp woodcutting tools are a dangerous combination with children’s hands. The artist herself comments on the role of drawings in her body of work: “The discipline I acquired with the design of woodcuts helped me with this technique. Compared to earlier years I learned to confront a sheet in its entirety, and not get lost in the details.” The path towards painting with pigmented inks arose from the steady increase in formats. Over time, the ink drawings also gained in spontaneity, moving from figurative to increasingly abstract. And consistently they deal with her surroundings: Every precious free hour is used for drawing. For example, she drove with the family jalopy of Italian production into the landscape of the Waldviertel, where the unreliable vehicle broke down, again. So she drew. Scrap metal yards. Or in the evening at home in the studio, her eyes focused on details, or gazing out of the window onto the cityscape of Vienna. And so innumerable landscapes take shape, linearly in the beginning, later on pictorially with washed ink.
Fifth Scene: An artist’s studio, somewhere, in a state of mess
A recurring theme was, and is, her environment, “the space that surrounds me” as she calls it. When she finds a topic, a subject, then she “sinks her teeth” into it and doesn’t let go until it is fully dealt with. And some themes have not run their course to this day. The series of daily drawings, continuing for over a decade, series on travels to Africa, to sunny islands of the Mediterranean, to the Caribbean, into the desert, to China and Tibet, but also domestic themes like landscapes of the Waldviertel, the garden and studio drawings, or the series “Wien, Gaußplatz 11” – the surroundings always play a crucial role as subject, atmosphere, or source of inspiration. In addition spaces and landscapes, these surroundings also include the traces of the people in them. For her series of studio drawings Linde Waber visited other artists, many artists, in their workspaces: desks and piles of books, printing presses and stacks of paper, hanging rails full of colorful rags, typewriters and virginal sheets of paper, canvasses and marble busts, order and disorder represent their creators and owners. Curious, but never voyeuristic, and with a sharp eye for detail, she captures the character of a room. The artists themselves are never in the picture, the “space that surrounds them” has to suffice. “Genius Loci” was the title of the exhibition showcasing this series in the Künstlerhaus in 2003.
Sixth Scene: A party, many well-known faces
And so her circle of friends has been constantly enriched with interesting personalities from the world of art and culture. Friederike Mayröcker, Bodo Hell, Lotte Ingrisch, Franzobel, Renald Deppe, Max Nagl, Heinz Karl Gruber, Othmar Schmiderer, Christine Jones, Otto Lechner and Anne Bennent are just a few of them, and many more should be noted. Linde Waber also collaborated artistically with many of them: Art books were developed together with Friederike Mayröcker, Elfriede Jelinek, Lotte Ingrisch and Bodo Hell, for a performance of Friederike Mayröcker’s “Nada Nichts” she created the stage design, in the neighbourhood collective Aktionsradius Augarten* she is officially the “councilor for drink and get-togethers of the AugartenCity. This book gives a voice to her friends. And it is a particular wish of the artist to invite friends and companions to participate in her exhibition: painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers provide the supporting program. Without them, says Linde Waber, she wouldn’t have wanted to create this exhibition.
Seventh Scene: Out in nature, Technicolor
Numerous exhibitions, including one in the Albertina in 1985, had established her reputation for drawings to the same level as her previous recognitions for woodcuts. Only later, with the theme “Waber vegetativ” (~vegetational) and the interior(?) as a subject the artist turned towards oil paintings. This transition, once again, was triggered by the desire to start something new. Series were created: First, starting in 1985, the garden paintings (“Waber vegetativ”), a framework for experimenting with techniques, colors, lines, and surfaces. Increasingly she also transcended the boundaries between the series: subjects like the garden in Zwettl or her own studio appear in the oil paintings, but also in drawings and etchings. With all of the techniques she works through the themes in formats from intimate to monumental. Collages arise. And throughout reminiscences of East Asia, of calligrapghy, surface. Mysterious symbols stand, like Chinese kanji, barely legible, in a landscape. Linde Waber calls these “Messages from a different world”. And, now over 60 – one is allowed to bring it up – she continues to dive, even literally, into new worlds. From her Caribbean trips she brings underwater vistas, freely associated color impressions from that quiet world. Or she enters into the microcosm: Currently she paints insects, enlarged to a monumental scale, distorted, abstracted, colorful. Several times the oil paintings have been the centre pieces of celebrated exhibitions, and collectors are fighting over them. Sounds like it’s a good time to try something new again. All we can do now is to wait and see what she come up with next.
Epilogue: Far from complete!
The grand finale has not been written, the final fade out has not been filmed. There is still room for new twists and turns. The current epilogue belongs to the artist herself:
beginning and end
birth and death
the circle closes
and i change yet again
Vienna, September 2009
Footnotes (should be included in the book)
* The “Augartenviertel” Aktionsradius, AugartenStadt These may need to be explained, but we don’t have enough info. Somebody involved with the collective might have an English piece already written?
NOTES (not to be included in book!)
- Throughout: We did not exactly translate the imagery of film jargon (standbild, drehbuch, screenshot, schlussbild), because some of the direct translations are too technical or unknown to us. For example, “standbild” is similar to “screenshot”, “freeze frame”, or “snapshot”, but neither really seems to fit. “freeze frame” sounds to static and cold. “snapshot” sounds too much like a vacation picture of the Eiffel tower. We’ve used “First Scene”, “Second Scene” etc. Somebody with knowledge of the movie biz might have better translations…
- Line 3 – The direct translation of “Kleinkrafterk Linde” would be “small power station Linde”, but the we used the common expression “powerhouse Linde”, which is the colloquial equivalent.
- Line 24 – “UFA-Star” assumes that people know the acronym. For a English-speaking readers we simply called her a “star of German cinema”.
- Line 44 – The exact translation of “Schriftzeichen” is “characters”, but “foreign characters” could be interpreted as referring to the character of the Japanese (“Ihr Charakter war fremd”). To avoid this, we translated it as “Japanese calligraphy” (or “symbols” later on).
- Line 51 – “gegenständlich“ could be translated as either „figurative“ or „representational“. The nuances of the discussion on Wikipedia could be used to choose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figurative_art), but we decided to go with figurative simply because we expect it would mean something to a broader audience.
- Line 65 – „ein Zeichenblatt in seiner Gesamtheit zu beherrschen“ The image of dominating or mastering the entire sheet is strong in the German, but doesn’t work so well in English. We’ve used “confront a sheet in its entirety”, which is not exactly the same, but fits in the flow of the sentence.