At nights my room was plunged into a deep, red light - my toys, the furniture, my bed, my hands - everything had the same color and seemed to be made of the same soft material. As though the natural laws were suddenly suspended, all matter seemed to glow from the inside out. The explanation for this red magic was the large illuminated star of the Red Army on the roof of the factory across the street, which poured its fire nightly into my room.
The days, in comparison, were gray, sticky like slime and filled with unlimited boredom - everything seemed ugly and unreal to me. I grew up in Vienna, after the war. I lived with my parents in Favoriten, a traditional Viennese working-class district, that then belonged to the Soviet occupied zone. The building we lived in endured a miserable existence between an old foundry from the turn of the century and a gray monster of a factory from the Nazi era, which now bore the sign of its new masters on its roof - that very same enormous red star.
In my memories everything is rusty and covered in dust. The streets looked like they were dead, nothing moved, nobody talked. The few people that I saw were bulky, misshapen and bent. I can’t remember ever having heard someone sing or laugh. A world that stood still, without sounds, without colors, without movement - only sometimes interrupted by a chattering cumbersome truck, filled with Soviet soldiers, blaring through the streets. And then it was silent again.
I had the feeling that people around me tried to be overlooked - not to be perceived. The only thing they seemed to fear was to be visible - to be discovered. A city that played dead-man.
I was a stranger, whose spaceship had crashed on an unknown planet and so was stranded with no possibilities of ever leaving again. Not only did I seem to have lost my orientation through the impact of the crash, but my memory as well, because I had forgotten who I was and where I came from. There was only one thing I was certain of: that this was an alien world in whose merciless embrace I was now caught. It was like the aftermath of a sloppy end of the world, where the few people that had survived, now continued cautiously to vegetate amongst the ruins, hoping to remain unnoticed by the Eternal Judge.
What I didn’t know then was that I had been born shortly after my stupid ancestors had lost the second of the two world-wars that they had caused within the last 30 years – which had turned 1000 years of culture into ashes and annihilated the lives of more than 50 million people
And when I found the photographs of my father, my grandfathers and my uncles all in uniforms of Hitler’s army, I started to ask questions.
Unfortunately, I was speaking either in the wrong tongue or they also suffered amnesia, because I never got any answers. But I was a very insistent child and I never gave up asking, despite the fact that it didn’t get me anywhere.
And then there was this one miraculous moment when I turned 18, this instance of revelation - suddenly I knew there was a way out: I had to become an artist. And I started to paint. I didn’t know much about the art-world and other artists, and I didn’t care about styles and techniques. I just began to formulate my old questions now as images, and step by step I developed my own visual language.
And I was not prepared for the avalanche of emotional reactions that my little watercolor-paintings triggered, I was quite surprised to realize that suddenly I seemed to be in possession of a superior magic language, capable of cutting through everything and reaching deep into the hearts of people and moving and touching them. And to my amazement this nation of mutes started to talk, to respond, to shout, to cry and to whisper. And I found myself in a very emotional and powerful dialogue with a growing number of people, that never stopped and became the momentum and destiny of my life.
When I started to paint I didn’t feel I had any message, my art was not an answer – it was a question.
By painting my first painting, at the end of 1969, I started an expedition into unknown territory and 30 years later I’m still on this staggering voyage of discovery, and I’m still asking my questions.