‘The spiral is the symbol of life and death. The spiral lies at that very point where inanimate matter is transformed into life. It is my conviction that this has a religious basis, and the scientists confirm it too, that life must begin somewhere and that development from a lifeless matter has taken the form of a spiral. I am convinced for example that the act of creation has the nature of a spiral. It is said in the Bible, in the beginning was only lifeless stone and then slowly life began. I believe the act breathing life into dead matter has the nature of a spiral. The spiral is constantly to be observed in lower and higher living organisms. The distant stars are disposed in spiral formations, and so are the molecules. Our whole life proceeds in spirals’ (F. Hundertwasser, ‘The Spiral’, in Austria Presents Hundertwasser to the Continents, exh. cat., Gruener Janura AG, Glarus/ Switzerland, 1980, p. 490).
Painted in 1966 in Vienna, Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s Der Siebente Bezirk, captures the witching hour through its richly detailed surface animated with the artist’s iconic spiral motif. Rendered in deep, primal colours, the effect is primordial, relocating the Viennese cityscape in a surreal dreamscape, reflecting the artist’s passionate interest in anti-rationalist architecture. In Der Siebente Bezirk the artist takes the stark, straight lines of Vienna’s seventh district and reconfigures them in a cellular composition, scattering dizzying spirals expansively over the canvas. The eye is compelled inward to each vortex, this complex arrangement evoking the disorder of city life and imbuing what Hundertwasser perceived as an inert scene with the life force he associated with the spiral. His most important motif, the spiral design is suggestive of the growth rings of a tree, a transformative effect that animates the lifeless architectural lines and integrates the man-made with the natural world. As the artist stated, ‘The spiral, as I see it is a vegetative spiral, with swellings, where the lines become thicker and thinner, like the rings of a tree trunk, but with this difference, that they do not lie within one another, but form a coil’ (F. Hundertwasser, ‘The Spiral’ in Austria Presents Hundertwasser to the Continents, exh. cat., Gruener Janura AG, Glarus/Switzerland, 1980, p. 491). Rejecting the ‘godless and immoral, straight line for the creative spiral, the Viennese landscape becomes organic and energised, propagating the artist’s simple truth of life and nature (F. Hundertwasser, ‘Mouldiness Manifesto Against Rationalism in Architecture’, in Austria Presents Hundertwasser to the Continents, exh. cat., Gruener Janura AG, Glarus/Switzerland, 1980, p. 441).
Hundertwasser’s work has drawn comparisons with his Viennese predecessors, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, who represented key influences to the artist. The rich all over decorative style that is particular to Hundertwasser’s painting has its roots in the formal elements of Art Nouveau and Viennese Secessionism. While Hundertwasser’s work was undoubtedly informed by the artistic context of Vienna, early years spent hiking through the woods outside of Vienna and sketching his environment left a lasting impression on the artist. His work is fundamentally concerned with man’s relationship to nature. His expressive, primitive practice combines his Viennese origins with his radical attempt to liberate the synthetic geometry that he considered destructive to human nature.