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Freedom from the Rule of „Isms“

Im Interview

YOU COULDN’T THINK OF OSWALD OBERHUBER AND NOT THINK OF THE CONCEPT OF ‘PERMANENT CHANGE’, WHICH IS BASED ON LEO TROTZKI’S IDEA OF ‘PERMANENT REVOLUTION’. WE WENT AND MET THE FIRST INFORMAL ARTIST OF AUSTRIA IN OCCASION OF HIS RETROSPECTIVE AT THE 21ER HAUS AND TALKED WITH HIM ABOUT HIS RADICAL BREAK ON HOW TO TEACH ART AND WHY, ACCORDING TO HIM, VIENNA ACTIONISM HASN’T CHANGED A THING.

What main idea is at the heart of permanent change?

There are numerous moments that flow into this concept. I wouldn’t want to repeat myself, you see, and I don’t believe in repetitions. This is the starting point of my art. I demand that every painting be made from scratch, and this applies to its formulation, too. It should always make its own statement, and take a step back, distance itself, if you will, from its past. Art historians look for classifications to provide art with visibility, yet I don‘t believe in this process. Such an approach eliminates the possibility of expressing oneself anew: you’re stuck with your same, old statement. Hence, my Rebellion against repetitions. I’m always unfaithful to one single idea.

Your artistic process never fits one style. How did you experience this as an artist?

There’s no such thing as style. This concept was introduced – and is still used today – in the 18th and 19th century to pigeonhole artists. But artists shouldn’t be categorised. Picasso rebelled against this by simply doing something else at all times. It’s more of an internal process.

Do you think the Vienna Actionism changed something about that?

Nothing at all. I experienced the situation myself. Vienna Actionism hasn’t changed anything at all. Informal painting had been around for a while as it was anyway, and all they did was destroy the painting by just being more radical about it than any other painter. The movement, in my opinion, is quite sober and is a successor of something which was already there. It’s just finding another way of expressing itself.

How do you find the themes contained in your work?

There’s a wealth of possible ways to discover your themes, but you shouldn’t think too much about it. That’s the whole problem to start with. I don’t find it that important, to be honest. There may be series of themes, but those are more experimental than anything else. When a series comes to end, then that’s it. I also travel a lot. I then create my paintings from these impressions.

Where there any decisive moments in your childhood which influenced your artistic career?

I don’t believe children have that many experiences which then pave the way to art. When I was 12, I was a server at the Capuchin Order and was allowed to attend art school. Was that decisive? I don’t know, but at least it opened a possible path for me. I looked at a Picasso book every day in a bookshop. A book often teaches more than a teacher. The idea is important. Teachers only wanted to hinder me. You rebel against a dictate which you don’t reflect. I rebelled against the dictate of ‘isms’. Looks like I was right, because they’ve all changed now.

But you also taught at university. How did you organise classes?

The truth is I never got involved with the work of the students because I firmly believe that everyone should be allowed to find themselves. I always removed myself from the process. My main task was to show students art. Every Student of mine developed and retained their own personality, for example Ernst Caramelle, Franz West, Franz Graff, and Eva Schlegel among others. I had many students, yet not one became another ‘Oberhuber’. That was my aim.

You also approached art as a collector, gallery owner, and curator. Between 1968 and 1970, you even went so far as to create the Oberhuber Magazine. How did that happen?

Yes, in those days I organised plenty of exhibitions and wanted some sort of catalogue to chronicle the whole event. I always collated the magazine myself and then sent it off to print. The magazine contained all kind of exhibitions, including ‘Kunst ohne Künstler’ (Art with no Artist), an exhibition Close to my heart.

Looking back at your milestones, what would you consider the most important moment in your life up to now?

That’s easy: meeting my wife. That was the most exciting and beautiful moment. As far as art is concerned, you continue to experience highs and lows. That’s just how it is.

Your retrospective in the 21er Haus was a resounding success. How do you feel about it?

You experience joy, happiness, for your work has been acknowledged. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one to believe in yourself: you need someone to see it. You end up not feeling any positive emotion. It would be negative, if I were to degenerate into criticism. I don’t criticise, because I’m content. I believe we achieved a great result with this retrospective.

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