About Felix Haspel
The academic painter, sculptor, aquarellist and weaver Felix Haspel taught the art of tapestry for over 25 years as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Since the 1980’s, he has been occupied with the Sahara. During several long travels he journeyed into the areas of the North African and North Indian desert. The experience and memory of the sounds, odours, nuances of light and colour is reflected in his catalogue of artistic work: from tapestry and sculpture to watercolours and land art installations.
Today, Felix Haspel is considered one of Austria’s leading textile artists. It is in painting with wool, its luminosity similar to that of watercolours, that he finds an artistic language that offers his artistic expression a suitable projection screen. He knew early on that wool was just the material he wanted to begin working with.
It was always clear to him that the painter, as the composer, also had to be the creator at the weaving loom. The actual act of painting doesn’t take place until the work at the weaving loom.
His weaving at the weaving loom kept being an act of painting, using wool instead of a brush and paint. A draft remains a draft, to be creatively envisaged during the process of weaving, working at the loom. It is a process of creation that cannot be delegated to anyone else.
Wool is an exceedingly sensitive material, with extremely high notes of luminosity. In the form of weaving threads, assembled from as many as ten different wool strands, individually dyed by the artist, the material allows the achievement of luminescent, vibrating colours that make the surface arrangement come alive. This old gothic technique based on ancient weaving skills such as the Etruscan hand woven carpets (Kelim) works with three to ten threads per centimetre. The delicate nature of the fabric and the near infinite mixing possibilities amongst thousands of colours give the artist the opportunity to reach any hue or surface in a masterly manner.
Although Felix Haspel realises his work with many different artistic techniques, weaving, along with the sculptural, graphic and painterly standing of his creations, still remains an important means of expression of his artistic œuvres today.
In particular, the characteristics of textiles are reflected in his sculptures.
Felix Haspel is a sculptor who uses textile elements in his work with steel, wood, and stone sculptures.
In his sculptural work that he engages the nature of formation under certain constraints, the consequences of external constraints and the resulting pressure and counter pressure, along with the consequential impacts on the internal development of the individual.
For this purpose, Felix Haspel uses findings and artefacts of daily life in a new context. The formal reflection of the attached artefacts serves the artist as means of expression. Relics of civilisation, objects whose use has been eclipsed by time and progress and which society now deems valueless, comprise 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 – perhaps the one they were meant for.
Rust, symbol of decay and of the eternal cycle, whose societal image nearly always carries a negative connotation, is found as an element and a quality time and again in Haspel’s works.
With the help of textile casting moulds in combination with the findings of daily life, the material (casting cement, white cement, quartz sand, and grounded sandstone) is forced into a specific shape. At the same time, it is left enough scope to spontaneously lapse and form on its accord. It is the spontaneous self-forming in the moment the sandstone and cement mixture is poured that leads to the unique shape, constrained only by the artist’s predetermined mould elements. Here lies the artist’s opportunity to counter the self-forming by actively intervening.
For particular interior decorations (e.g. restaurants), Felix Haspel conceptualises and manufactures light objects.
Object and space based commissions are designed and fabricated with the use of fibre optic cables, LED light sources, metal, glass and plastics. Along with light, the textile aspect remains in the foreground. Fibre optic cables are braided, heated glass pleated and bent and pieces of metal woven into one another. The artist pays particular attention to textile aspects and opportunities.
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 scenic rhythm.
The painter Felix Haspel lets colours and thoughts flow into alternating games and make them visible to the beholder.
The watercolour paintings are often inspired by his many travels to the light filled deserts of North Africa. In these works, Felix Haspel attempts to capture the rhythm and melody of the landscapes. The unique effects of colour and light fascinate and inspire him on equal account.
Smaller, sketched works emerge during his travels in the desert. Larger ones arise in his studio in Vienna. 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, but representative inner impressions of landscapes as they could exist, or might exist somewhere else entirely – 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 re-imagined as paintings, as the artist brought them home from the desert.
Watercolours stand in contrast to the artist’s other disciplines. Tapestry works require to be designed and planned well in advance of the actual implementation, which in itself requires a lot of resilience, and where thoughts and ideas manifest themselves over the course of several months. Sculptures allow for spontaneity in only some phases of work. Watercolours 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 artist’s essential venue; it is the habitat of the moment.
Felix Haspel: “If we just pick up one stone, we are doing so like the homo sapiens 200,000 years before us. Except: we carry along our knowledge, our philosophies, our cultural mould. 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 the dialogue with nature – these are the archaic processes that one is engulfed in when experiencing landscapes as powerful as the Sahara. 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 the desert means delivering himself to the confrontation with an environment hostile to life, and entering into a dialogue with these impregnable forces. The vastness and incessancy of the desert impinge upon his creative work directly as much as indirectly. Nowhere can Haspel’s inner experience be communicated artistically more immediately than here, as it is the moment that counts when one lives through a creative process. The power of creative production is often found in the courage to accord that short moment the greatest importance. The perception of an ordinary asperity becomes the rupture between yesterday and today, between elements and emotions. Travelling the desert for the first time, an artist – anyone – will not manage to absorb everything. One is overwhelmed by the size, the depth of the experience, and fascinated by the own minuscule existence. Eventually, one dares to establish the first connections and cautiously appropriate the landscape. The desert lends itself as a projection screen for artistic thoughts and emotions. Unexpected inspiration on the edges of the route 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.