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Art, water, and the environment: Hundertwasser and Ukiyo-e.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle was more than a slogan to Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Austrian artist created a broad range of artwork to bring environmental issues to public attention. Sometimes called an "eco-architect-doctor" because of his approach to redesigning buildings to make them aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly, Hundertwasser is also well-known as a painter, graphic designer, and printmaker. Regardless of his chosen media, his work almost always brings to the forefront global issues of ecology.

The Artist Named for Water

Friedrich Stowasser (1928-2000) was born in Vienna, Austria. The artist modified his name throughout his career, eventually settling upon the invented name of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It is interesting to note that Hundertwasser's original Slavic surname and his invented surname mean about the same: hundred waters. Both names illustrate the artist's love of water and concerns about the ecology of the planet.

Hundertwasser produced his first deliberate drawings of nature when he was about fifteen. After receiving his "school leaving certificate" in 1948, Hundertwasser briefly studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but soon left in favor of touring Italy. He visited and worked in a variety of countries, a circumstance that no doubt contributed to his desire to address global environmental issues through his art.

Ukiyo-e and Hundertwasser

Japanese woodblock prints were introduced to Hundertwasser in 1950. Depictions of rain and water in the prints of Japanese master Ukiyo-e artists Hokusai and Hiroshige left a deep impression upon him. More than a decade later Hundertwasser visited Japan where he sought out woodcutters and printers.

The Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e was developed in Edo (now known as Tokyo) between about 1615 and 1868. Ukiyo-e, sometimes referred to as "Art of the Floating World," most often depicted scenes of everyday life. Hundertwasser's woodblock prints were created over a period of several years, bringing together the artist, two engravers, and a printer. Hundertwasser is credited as the first European painter to have his images cut by Japanese masters and was given recognition for helping to revive the Ukiyo-e process in a modernized Japan.

Hundertwasser's Japanese woodblock print portfolio consists of images that simultaneously reflect the artist's attraction to Ukiyo-e while expressing his continual concerns about the environment. Each of the prints involves the idea of water and reminds the viewer of the importance of water conservation. Representative of the portfolio is the print The Rain Falls Far From Us.

Investigating Artwork

The Rain Falls Far from Us demonstrates Hundertwasser's love of the curved line and vivid colors to communicate ideas about nature. The image is divided into five curvilinear horizontal bands of colors and shapes. In the foreground stands a row of balloon-like green trees. Woven into the trees are five people who seem to interact with their surroundings in a natural way. In the far background a band of deep green defines a grassy hillside beneath a blue and purple sky. Oversized multicolor raindrops fall from the sky onto the trees and hillside.

Questions to Consider

* If the concepts of Ukiyo-e are reflected in The Rain Falls Far from Us, who might the people be?

* Ukiyo-e ideals would suggest that this is a group of people who are participating in some sort of everyday activity. What activity are the people doing? Why would a common activity be something important in an artwork about the environment? How is everyone on earth responsible for the environment?

* In an environmentally sound world, trees would grow in cities as well as urban settings. Urban growth would not destroy the rural. What do the trees and windows represent? Why are the people woven into the trees?

* In an ecologically healthy world, water everywhere would be clean and plentiful. How does the rain in the distance affect these people and their surroundings?

Art and Ecology

Hundertwasser's life is best defined by his devotion to art and ecology. Investigating the ways that his artwork brings ecological issues to pubic notice helps students to understand the integral role that art plays in expressing universal ideas and concerns.


"The Art of Ecology: Exploring the Work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser," SchoolArts, September 2000, pages 43-45.


Students understand there are various purposes for creating works of visual art.


Kunst Haus Wien (Art House Vienna) Hundertwasser's museum in Austria, www.kunsthauswien. com

A SchoolArts contributing editor, Dr. Pam Stephens is associate professor of art education at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff and was privileged to have collaborated with Hundertwasser on educational materials shortly before his death in 2000.
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Title Annotation:Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Japanese woodblock prints
Author:Stephens, Pam
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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