The Early Years of the "Fantastic Realists" in Vienna
From the Fifties to the Seventies
What is Fantastic Realism?
A "Sixth" Member of the Group?
The Methods and Formula of the Mische Technique
The paintings of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism have, according to the historian Johann Muschik, very little in common with the abstracted, psychic-automatic and the ethnographic directions of international surrealism. With naturalistic surrealists such as Dali, Delvaux and Magritte, they share only their attention for detail and precision-craftsmanship. The difference is that the Vienna School concerns itself not with the elimination of the rationale, the exclusivity of the irrationale and the absurd, with which even the veristic surrealists are pre-occupied, but presentation of the conscious and subconscious world as an inseparable whole, which they achieve and emphasize by fantastic exageration. The fantastic realists deal with lofty themes, such as War and Peace, Culture and Nature, the Rational and Irrational, Civilisational and, in the narrower sense, Psychological Problematic. 27 Clearly, their philosophy is of a dualistic nature, echoing the philosophies of Nietsche and Schoppenhauer and the psychological theories of Freud and Jung, but one can also detect traces of ancient myths and religions, especially those of mesopotamian origin and belief-systems and the classic struggle between Apollonian and Dionysian characteristics.
These artists of the Vienna School draw their inspirations from the layered labyrinthic underground which represents the other side of life of this city (Vienna) and its inhabitants. This other side, which is an inner imaginative-inspirational counterpart to the real outer world, expressed with the help of logic-alogic associations, analogisation and symbolisation could be seen as an alternate reality. Like in dreams, the categories of outer reality and of space and time are dissolved, and past and future blends with the present. Cause and effect is interchangable, and the infinite realm of the soul is traversed with the help of imagination and fantasy, explored, ecstatically experienced and presented through artistic-creative activity. 28 When revolutionary changes are experienced and become overpowering (taken into account the times in which the Vienna artists had their formative years), when exterior threats and inner Angst can barely coped with, but human existence is forced to deal with it, to live and survive, then the hidden inner forces become exceptionally strong. In these situations, the other side is a refuge, a return to the primeval existence and, submerging in the dream-conscious means not only freedom, but also strenghtening, so that we may return refreshed to deal with the reality of the outer world. I don't think the works of the Fantastic Realists advocates escapism, but rather to turn inward to draw strength from the inner forces and possibly to gain a new perspective to conquer faith by increasing the heights and depths of ones perception and awareness. 29
One could see the works of the Fantastic Realists as a blueprint to a poetic world-view. This worldview is not sharply bordered, neither logically or only after aesthetic categories structured, but a free floating organism, open on all sides. As such it is the attempt of a synthesis, which combines within the mythos of fantasy the Micro and Macro Cosmos, the Outer and Inner, Light and Dark, Day and Night, Sun and Moon, Heaven and Hell, Religion and Magic. All the Viennese fantasists are in a special and personal way builders of myth, and as such in our modern world picture representatives of a type of artists, which since the Renaissance bring to light the numine afflatur, the poetic in its original meaning pertaining to poetry and creation. 30 This poetic-mystic process, set against the background of our de-mythologized present, heralds a new Romanticism.
Through the art of the Fantastic Realists, an aspect of the world has been made visible to us, which we may have overlooked. It is the sensitivity of the artist, which brings to light things we may be blind to, things we may not deem worthy of attention, things we may have suppressed, consciously or subconsciously. It is the duty of the artist to make visible. In the case of the Fantastic Realists, it is a seemingly visible world, transformed into a truly total visible form. Wieland Schmied asks:
"How much of this seemingly visible world can still be made visible today?"He answers his own question by saying:
"Only a few years ago, the American Pop-artists - Rauschenberg, Liechtenstein, Warhol, Indiana, Rosenquist, Wesselman, D'Arcangelo - made a completely new world visible to us: a world of banal objects of daily use, the soup-cans, the icecream-cone, trafic-signals, neon-signs, comic-strips." 31
By pointing to this widely different movement, Schmied signifies the relevance of the Fantastic Realists. They have that one objective, to make visible, in common with the Pop Artists, just as they share the same artistic visions of f.ex. Altdorfer, which introduced us to the beauty of the landscape, and daVinci, which explored the human face and went beyond surface-appearances.
The Fantastic Realists make us see with the eye of the child, looking with amazement and undivided attention at everything around us, the childs eye, which sees but does not label and classify what it sees. That way, everything becomes so more colorful and rich, and, because of its newness, we tend to pay attention to even the most minute detail. It is only when we know (or when we think we know) what a thing is, that we tend to classify, eliminate and reduce in order to fit it into the pidgeon-hole of pre-conception.
photo Manfred Werner, Vienna
While conducting further research I was fortunate to discover additional resources: Kurt Regschek was originally closely associated with the group in Vienna, but left in 1965 to pursue his own way, just before internationally important exhibitions of the other 5 members took place. Kurt Regschek could be considered the Sixth Member of the Group.
A very personable and humble man, while being interviewed for his biography, he said:
by Kurt Regschek
Kurt Regschek Werke
When we look at these artists as a group, we assume invariably, that similar to the Futurists, or the Surrealists, as well as many other movements, they were bound together by published manifestos and possibly structured like Breton's Surrealists around a dominant leader. But from all the evidence I have at hand, this does not seem to be the case. For all the things they had in common, they are highly individualistic artists, which becomes evident when we view their work, as for example Hausner and Brauer are on the extreme opposite of one another. It is their individualistic interpretion of style and philosophy, unstifled by dictatorial decrees of an unwielding leader, which not only preserved, but encouraged growth of the Vienna School, in contrast to the Paris Surrealists, where such highly individualistic artists as Ernst, Dali and Miro outgrew the movement early (or were expelled, as was the case with Dali) and disassociated themselves from a dying cause. Even if it were only for the preservation and continued development of painterly skill and craftsmanship, which they maintained in spite of the trends throughout the fifties, to label such skills and persuits as superfluous, the artists of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism should gain a place of honor in history.