Wolfgang Bauer, an Austrian artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, recently sat for an interview with DailyServing. (See his previous DS feature.) Bauer was educated in Austria and in the U.S. at the Hochschule fuer Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna and Salzburg and the University of Southern California. This month, Bauer will be exhibiting “Spring Awakenings,” a new series of paintings with Found Gallery in Los Angeles.
DS: You were born in Vienna, Austria. When did you move to the United States?
WB: In the spring of 1995 I was living in Munich, Germany. At that time I decided to move to Los Angeles.
DS: You were educated both in the U.S. and abroad. How do you feel universities in Austria differ from those in the U.S.?
WB: U.S. students are rushed to finish as quickly as possible. Also, a big obstacle for students at American Universities is tuition. In Austria, as well as in Germany, students pay a few hundred dollars each semester, compared to thousands here in the U.S. The quality of the course work is similar, depending of course on the university you attend.
DS: Have you had the opportunity to exhibit your work in Europe?
WB: Prior to 2001, several of my paintings were sold at the Galerie fuer Zeitgenoessische Kunst – Andreas Baumgartl in Munich, Germany. I’ve also sold paintings at the Gallery MOTTO in Vienna, Austria.
DS: How has the study of German literature, philosophy and anthropology impacted the content of your work?
WB: I studied directing and acting in Vienna at the University fuer Musik und Darstellende Kunst, the Max Reinhardt Seminar. I used storytelling, plays, novels and poetry as tools of creative escape from my oppressive childhood. The combination of philosophy, psychology, sociology, biological anthropology classes and Western literature helped me understand why I turned into the person that I am.
DS: Gender roles seem purposefully blurred in your paintings. Is this a reflection of contemporary social issues?
WB: To emphasize the social constructs of gender issues, I choose to paint the main protagonists in the Spring Awakenings series as androgynous adolescents with accessories, such as women’s or men’s shoes and dress, as gender markers. While the correlation between conforming to societal norms and “success” in later life are very high, the pressure to conform often eliminates individuality and creative growth. In Mars, the boy holds the doll in his hand like a weapon because society forbids him any other interaction with the doll. In Boys will be Boys, the boy wears his mother’s high heels and plays with her jewelry. The viewer is left to make his or her own determinations of this behavior. The viewer’s approval or disapproval is a direct reflection of their own experiences, prejudices and limitations.
DS: You refer to the subjects in your paintings as being “the Other” as opposed to “normal.” How does your work attempt to define those terms?
WB: My work is simply a reflection of society. It is society that defines whether an individual or group behave/look/live in ways that are acceptable or not. These guidelines are set by whoever controls resources. To maintain control of these resources and thus maintain control of the population, mechanisms of ostracization are employed. Anyone who chooses to or cannot help but to move away from these social guidelines of acceptable norms of gender, dress, play or sexual orientation collectively becomes the “other.”
DS: Items in your paintings certainly seem to have rich symbolic value. What are some the particular symbols in your work, and what do they reveal about your subjects?
WB: I thought I would use a life-like doll, which was “supposed” to symbolize childhood. I found a pee-doll. This doll was anatomically perfect in every way — with the single exception of its genitals. This shocked me. Why should everything resemble a living baby but the genitals? My doll had a hole between the legs and nothing where the penis or vagina should have been. This disturbing message is confusing to children and implies that genitals are dirty, bad, should be ignored, invisible and not spoken about. This barbaric message was so disturbing to me that I made the doll an intrinsic part of this series.
DS: Are the figures in your paintings drawn from life, photographs or imagination?
WB: I paint from life, from sketches, photographs and memory. If I want to capture a certain expression, I use several images to capture exactly what I am looking for in that character.
DS: Your recent paintings employ beautifully rich greens and reds, how does your color palette relate to the emotive qualities in your work?
WB: My paintings are highly conceptual. Greens and reds are strong opposites on the color pallet. I use binaries often to exemplify my point. I color code the surroundings of the characters to illustrate their opposition to each other.
DS: What function does the green chair serve in your paintings, and how does it operate as a physical item in the gallery space?
WB: The chair is an heirloom. It serves as a reminder of things, good and bad, passed down from generation to generation. It is the same traditional chair, worn and faded, from antiquated times; yet we still sit in it.
DS: Do you work in short series or long-term bodies of work?
WB: I immerse myself in long-term bodies of work. The concepts grow, change and take over as I paint.
DS: When did you first begin to work with Found Gallery in Los Angeles?
WB: They contacted me after they saw my work at the Lindhurst Gallery in 2006. We hit it off right away. They’re truly a talented, creative, open-minded group. Jonny Coleman, John Schwartz, Brady Brim-DeForest and Cullen Conly have all worked very hard to make my opening at Found Gallery a success.
DS: How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and has the city impacted you and your work?
WB: I have spent my time between Los Angeles and Vienna for the last 12 years. This has allowed me to develop a diverse, international viewpoint that has taught me the importance of stepping back and viewing our world from different perspectives. I’ve learned a valuable lesson; there are multiple truths in every situation.
DS: Do you have any upcoming projects or new directions that you want to explore?
WB: I’m excited by my new series of paintings, which involve adult relationships, their dynamics, patriarchal forces and the domination of gender.
DS: Which artists do you find yourself most interested in right now?
WB: There are so many wonderful artists. I’m always re-discovering old favorites such as Egon Schiele and Oscar Kokoschka. Some favorite contemporary painters are Patty Wickman, Alexander Tinti, Ron Rizk and Bob Alderette.