Arik Brauer – painter, songwriter, architect, singer, dancer and set designer – was born on January 4, 1929 in Vienna-Ottakring into a Jewish family. He survived the Nazi rule as a boy and, as an old man, remembered the end of the war in April 1945: „The feeling of being free – that carries me to this day“.
In 1946, he met Ernst Fuchs, Rudolf Hausner, Anton Lehmden and Wolfgang Hutter at the Academy of Fine Arts – their predilection for fantasy united the students into the so-called School of Fantastic Realism, one of the most important art styles in post-war Austria. „You shouldn’t recount the world as you see it with your own eyes – the photo can do that better. One should try to understand the world, recognize a truth and make it visible.“
The technique of the Fantastic Realists was the one of old mastery, Brauer used bright colors and a fine drawing style. His motifs were fairytale, dreamlike, biblical or political: but Brauer could also incorporate horror into his paintings. His artworks were supposed to transmit mysteriously encrypted messages. „The really horrible things are not ugly at all – that’s why they are so dangerous!“
Brauer’s painting was characterized by his positive energy, he himself spoke of his „narrative rage“ in his work. He compared his pictures to a conversation in which new stories keep popping up and enrich the whole tale.
Since fantasy painting was initially rejected in Vienna as part of a tradition and thus seen as a brake on progress, Brauer spent many years abroad: he lived in Israel in the 1950s and then in Paris, where he was successful as a Chanson singer. He had his breakthrough as a singer in Austria thanks to songs sung in the local dialect. „I understood the possibility of expressing (uncomfortable) things through the dialect and not be too obvious.“ With „Sie ham a Haus baut“ or „Köpferl in Sand“ he spoke his mind without pointing fingers.
Brauer was happy to see his work being valued by the retrospective at the Leopold Museum on his 85th birthday. In the years before that, he sold well, but was not a large presence in the art world; as painting was considered being the art of the past. But Brauer was not bitter: „The best thing still is, someone buys a picture of me, hangs it on the wall and enjoys it.”
In his book „The Devil and the Painter“ he wrote a letter from the afterlife: „I die, but I have nothing to do with death,“ he assured. Dying was not a problem, because: „Before I was born, I endured it well enough.“
Brauer died in Vienna on Sunday, January 24, 2021, at the age of 92.
All quotes from: Arik Brauer as guest at the Siemens Academy of Life, 23.03.2015.