About Felix Haspel
Felix Haspel is an academic painter, sculptor, watercolourist and tapestry weaver. For over 25 years, he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he taught the art of tapestry. Since the 1980s, he has explored extreme landscape forms in his work and has travelled extensively in the desert regions of North Africa, North India and Mongolia. Nuances of light and colour as well as sounds and smells of these landscape forms are reflected in all of his artistic work. The theme of this archaic, unpopulated landscape form with no traces of civilisation runs through all his artistic creations - from tapestry and sculpture to painting and land art installations.
Felix Haspel is considered one of Austria’s leading textile artists today. Weaving for him is a special artistic language and form of expression, for which tapestry is a suitable projection screen. Felix Haspel sees weaving as “painting with wool”. For him, wool with a luminosity similar to that of watercolours has always been an appropriate material for his artistic expression.
He believes the actual “painting” work takes place at the weaving loom. It is like painting with wool instead of a brush and paint, which is why this creative process cannot be delegated. Thus the draft for the tapestry is merely the basis for a picture created in a painterly process during the process of weaving.
Wool is an extremely luminous material which enables a living, bright, even vibrating surface. Weaving threads are often put together from as many as ten different wool strands individually dyed by the artist. This old Gothic technique based on ancient weaving techniques such as the Etruscan kilim weave uses three to ten warp threads per centimetre. The yarn count and the near infinite mixing possibilities give the artist the opportunity to achieve nearly every conceivable colour and surface. Approximately four thousand different wool colours and approx. five million picks per square metre open up a world of extremely diverse paintings with wool.
To this day, tapestry remains an important means of expressing his artistic work. He does, however, define textile very broadly. In addition to weaving tapestries, he also designs and realises stone and iron sculptures, seeing these cases too as textile art expressed by form and not material.
Recontextualization of artefacts is the central theme of Felix Haspel’s sculptural work. He uses textile elements as a means of expression in his work with paper, iron, stone and bronze sculptures. The textile aspect is expressed by form in sculptures, as compared to material in tapestry.
A central aspect of Felix Haspel’s work is exploring conditioning: differences in conditioning that have an effect on people and which occur due to external influences. The opposing forces of external influences and internal forces together with the resulting tension and shaping are the artist’s core interest.
The contrasting nature of the materials Felix Haspel uses creates forms which visualize the theme of taking up versus giving space. The reciprocal dependence of two elements or forces is expressed in artistic form. The phenomenon of giving and taking space is visualized. For this purpose, Felix Haspel uses artefacts of daily life in a new context. Relics of civilization, objects whose use has been eclipsed by time and progress and which society now deems worthless, hold new opportunities. Objects that are cast aside by society are detached from their original contexts of meaning and use. By framing them in a new light, the artist gives them a new life. Rust, a symbol of decay and of the eternal cycle, whose image in society nearly always carries a negative connotation, is found as an element and a quality time and time again in Haspel’s works.
In addition to cast stone made by textile casting moulds, Felix Haspel also uses moulded iron and steel elements which are often formed at great heat and under high pressure of up to 600 metric tons. Cast stone, bronze, paper and wood are materials which are given a certain form using textile casting moulds in combination with objects found in daily life.
The artist finds another aspect fascinating: the practically infinite chronology in the past of human energy used in materials or artefacts. The artist gives this a final boost as the last link in the energy and value chain. Painterly aspects on sculpture surfaces which Felix Haspel uses are understood as a painterly transition or connecting element between the materials. He thus consciously does not conform to the often outdated, restrictive definitions of sculpture, painting, etc. Using the medium of textile in sculptures is a particularly value-creating, rich and appropriate method of visualising his form language.
Felix Haspel designs and manufactures light objects for special settings such as public spaces. Object and space-based commissions are designed and made using fibre optic cables, LED light sources, metal, glass and plastics. In this case too, the textile aspect is crucial along with the light. Fibre optic cables are braided, heated glass pleated and bent, and pieces of metal woven into one another. The artist pays particular attention to incorporating textile elements. As in his watercolour work, different elements, layers and materials in combination with the visible and connective energy of light flow into each other in a rhythm similar to a landscape.
Felix Haspel’s watercolour paintings are often inspired by his many trips to desert regions. These works focus on the blending of terrestrial and spherical elements together with the experiencing of light, colour, rhythm and melody of the landscapes. The spontaneous painting technique lets Haspel’s inner experience stream to the exterior, where his flow of thought frequently bears deep resemblance to the flow of hues and shades of the watercolour. His paintings are not depictions of actual landscapes. Rather, they are representative of inner impressions of landscapes; a blend of the lived, the seen, the felt and the experienced. They are depictions that do not aim to reproduce the actual geology of any scene, but attend to the beholder’s perception and dramatic sensation of such a scene. Thoughts the artist brought home from the desert turned into paintings.
Watercolour painting is in contrast to the artist’s other disciplines, such as tapestry work, which requires planning in the draft phase in advance of the actual implementation, which in itself requires a lot of stamina, and where thoughts and ideas manifest themselves over the course of several months. Or sculptures, which allow for spontaneity in only some phases of work. Watercolour paintings are the result of a direct, impulsive process. The adjacency of thought and action, of memory and expression, without leaving room for one’s own corrective sway, is asserted in these works. It is here that the artist becomes one with brush and colour and lets his thoughts become instant realisations.
“There is no other place on earth where perception is shaped as it is in the desert.
It is the home of the moment”, according to Felix Haspel: “If we just pick up one stone, we are doing so like the homo sapiens 200,000 years before us. Except that we carry along our knowledge, our philosophies, our cultural background. Yet we notice how the stone changes once in our hands. The world is not the same as it was before we lifted it. In all cultures, the language of signs and symbols evolved through a dialogue with nature – these are the archaic processes that one is engulfed in when experiencing landscapes as powerful as the Sahara, for example. With their first paintings and etchings, humans began developing a collective memory – a mind process that artists have been involved in for thousands of years.” For Haspel, travelling in remote regions like desert landscapes means surrendering himself to an environment hostile to life, and entering into a dialogue with these impregnable forces. The vastness and endlessness of the desert interact with his creative work both directly and indirectly.
Nowhere can Haspel’s inner experience be communicated artistically more immediately than here, as it is the moment that counts when going through a creative process. The power of creativity is often found in the courage to accord that short moment the greatest importance. The perception of unspectacular uneven ground becomes a rift between yesterday and today, between elements and emotions. An artist travelling to the desert for the first time does not see many things, is overwhelmed by the size, by the depth of the experience, and is fascinated by his own insignificance. Later, he gradually dares to establish initial connections and cautiously get used to the landscape. The desert lends itself as a projection screen for artistic thoughts and emotions. Unexpected inspiration from the side challenges vision, acumen and sensitivity, time and time again. A tense yet harmonious relationship develops between the artist and his environment. Felix Haspel has realised numerous land art projects in the North African desert.