FIGURES AND SPACE. THIS CONCEPTUAL DUO IS A LEITMOTIF IN ALL OF JOS PIRKNER’S WORKS, AN ARTIST FROM EAST TYROL.
His work stands out for its incredible variety, covering around 70 years of artistic creation, from early embossed items made with bronze sheet metal, a technique rarely mastered today, to drawings, paintings, filigree bronze, countless metal sculptures of different sizes, glass windows and much more. Did you know that Jos Pirkner was mostly responsible for the artistic design of the Toro Rosso Formula I race car? And that the highlight of his artistic activity is none other than the architectural project for the Red Bull headquarters in Fuschl am See, a larger-than-life sculpture embedded in the landscape, standing out for the two volcanoes rising from the lake. From the larger of the two, a powerful herd of bronze bulls cascades into the water. Here, Jos Pirkner has achieved an unrivalled masterpiece.
Jos Pirkner could have probably made a name for himself before he actually did by living in European capitals the likes of Vienna, Paris, London, or even New York. However, he returned from the Netherlands to his East Tyrolean hometown out of love for his son in 1978 and finally settled down. He always stayed the course and never kowtowed to the art market or gallery owners, only accepting commissions when he was guaranteed artistic freedom. ‘Quality’ is and always has been the slogan of his creative endeavour. And despite his stubbornness, a trademark of all Tiroleans worth their salt, he’s still very much an empathetic, sensitive person. There are three main areas characterising his life and his creative output: sculpture, painting, and architecture.
Jos Pirkner considers himself, first and foremost, a sculptor. ‘I learnt how to sculpt, that’s where I came from.’ He moulds the heavy clay with his hands, and every new sculpture is made reflecting its original size until it meets his expectations. After moulding and casting his creation, he segues into working the bronze figures: welding, sanding, and polishing. Pirkner is a perfectionist. The sculpture is only ready if he’s satisfied with the end result. He’s especially fascinated by large formats because they aren’t forgiving. ‘You have to be sure about what you’re doing right from the start: the concept, the perspective, and the conviction you’ll complete the work. It’s not only about getting the actual size: you also have to consider the artistic risk,’ explains Pirkner. His sculptures are snapshots of moments taken from dynamic movements: the powerful herd of bulls in Fuschl, for instance, as they cascade from the building into the water, but also in every intimate human scene. His bronze works are dedicated to ancient mythology, a theme that has, one way or another, always interested him.
Jos Pirkner has had enough of taking part in the debate on contemporary art: he’s not interested in the debate on representation or abstraction. Quality and emotions awakened by art in his audience is all that matters. He likes painting big formats, often depicting expressive bodies (just like his sculptures), paintings hiding a message, or individual moments. ‘I spontaneously convey the colours in broad brushes with a thick paintbrush. Without using preliminary sketches. Even large paintings are created quickly, at a push they may take some days, no more, and aren’t modified.’ Recently, his paintings have intensively tackled the theme of world hunger, creating works that shake viewers to their very core due to the paintings’ expressive nature.
Jos Pirkner is no ‘traditional’ architect. And yet he planned his home and his atelier, filled with plenty of natural light, as well as the mammoth Red Bull headquarters in Fuschl am See, near Salzburg. Pirkner’s architecture reflects his experience with space, material, symbolism and proportion, where indoors and outdoors flow into each other, building blocks and nature create a symbiotic relationship. ‘My architecture has developed from the spatial experience of sculpting. I am not intimidated by technical guidelines. I can act as an artist and include creativity and emotions in my projects,’ explains Pirkner. Of course, he needs clients who commission such audacious projects in the first place, benefactors who are open to the unusual idea of two sculptural volcanic buildings and are ready to bring them to life. He found such a client in Fuschl am See: Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz. The building speaks for itself, not needing any publicity nor slogan splashed across its surface.
Jos Pirkner continues working untiringly, even at the respectable age of 90 – although he doesn’t look it. Today we can finally shout it from the rooftops: Jos Pirkner has made it. He’s an incredibly successful artist thanks to the countless commissions he’s received and the favour shown to him by important collectors. His virtues are extolled by international art magazines together with those of the most famous contemporary architect, Zaha Hadid, and he’s now revered and valued in his own country. Many of his works are created to be shown in public spaces and can be found across squares, parks, churches, schools, kindergartens and public buildings. He’s always cared about creating art for these public venues.
Jos Pirkner was born on 2 December 1927 in Sillian, East Tyrol. He went to art school in Klagenfurt, and completed his studies with distinction at the ‘Meisterschule für angewandte Kunst’ in Graz. He then discovered his passion for metal during the period as Rudolf Reinhart’s private student, a sculptor in Salzburg, and developed a skill for working on projects demanding extremely precise dexterity and manual precision.
The young artist accepted an offer from the Brom siblings in 1951 and started working as an independent gold and silver sculptor for the world-renowned atelier in the Netherlands. Jos Pirkner was accepted by the Amsterdam School of the Arts and visited the Free Academy in Utrecht as a guest student. With his silver, bronze, or glass sculptures, Pirkner quickly made a name for himself in Europe and the USA, was invited to exhibit his work, and received countless private and public commissions. He lived in the Netherlands for 25 years, where he married Joke Baegen in 1966. Joke became his life’s greatest love, his muse, his committed artistic collaborator who supported him during difficult tasks such as casting and welding. Her opinion, her critical outlook had always been an important aid for Jos when making decisions. Following the birth of their son, Gidi, they returned to East Tyrol in 1978, and he’s lived and worked in in Tristach, bordering Lienz, ever since. In 1995, Jos Pirkner was officially recognised as ‘Professor’ by the Austrian President, in 2001 he received the Medal of Distinction from the Land Tirol, and the following year the Honorary Ring from the Municipality of Tristach. Pirkner continues working as though nothing has changed in his life, not distracted by his commercial and intellectual renown as a sculptor, painter, drawer, and architect.
‘There wasn’t one single day in my life as an artist when I didn’t work. I never had to adapt to earn money. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do that,’ claims Pirkner. His wife, Joke, didn’t live to see the completion of his largest sculptural work, the herd of bulls for the Red Bull headquarters in Fuschl am See, as she passed away in May 2010. As the last of the 14 bulls was finished, he scratched ‘Joke, we made it!’ into the clay.