Hundertwasser’s paintings are instantly recognisable, due to his idiosyncratic, energetic style and his exuberant, visionary use of colour. Although he was influenced as a young man by the Jugendstil, particularly the works of his fellow Austrian Egon Schiele, Hundertwasser moved beyond these modernist beginnings to develop a unique visual language of his own, as well as a repertoire of motifs that connect his painting to his personal philosophy. Hundertwasser rejected the modernist drive towards essentialism and simplification of forms in favour of a maximalist approach that celebrates baroque, decorative intricacy. Typical subjects include biomorphic, fantastic cityscapes, faces, ships, landscapes, trees and water, often in the form of rain or teardrops. Non-representational motifs such as spirals, concentric circles or stripes occur throughout the work, as do organic, deliberately imperfect checkerboard patterns that playfully manifest the artist’s disdain for grids, right angles and mechanically straight lines.
Technically, Hundertwasser’s painted output is highly accessible and democratic in nature. His artmaking practice was something he carried with him on his travels, and was seldom confined to a studio environment. Early in his career, Hundertwasser often worked on found materials such as paper or cardboard, rather than traditional canvases, reflecting his resourcefulness and an interest in the aesthetic qualities of unconventional materials. He made use of a wide range of media, including watercolours, charcoal, chalk, egg tempera, oil paint, shellac and gold leaf. This emphasis on spontaneity and fluid approach to materials parallels Hundertwasser’s desire to see art and architecture liberated from the academic confines of the studio and reintegrated into the fabric of the everyday. He also expressed an admiration for the art of children, which he viewed as an authentic expression of the creative impulse, freed from the shackles of cultural orthodoxy.
Despite his exuberant aesthetic and loose, organic approach to composition, Hundertwasser’s use of his materials was careful and deliberate.The paint is very often laid down in thin, transparent layers, creating a sense of depth and a jewel-like intensity of colour. His paintings tend to consist of evenly applied cells or facets, giving them a characteristic stained-glass appearance. His work is never chaotic or overtly expressive in terms of paint handling, with few visible brushstrokes and a general sense of orderly process. Despite this, his painting remained largely intuitive, reflecting his concept of “trans-automatism,” by which he meant a blending of conscious and unconscious impulses into one flowing outpouring of artistic activity.