Life and work

1936, July 22 - 2001, July 7


August Walla was one of the most versatile artists of the twentieth century and is among the most important Austrian artists since 1945. The self-made universe of his private mythology provided the point of departure for all his art. In order to record it, he utilized a transmedial process in which no hierarchies existed within the different media. His oeuvre encompasses painting (easel paintings, wall paintings, graffiti), drawing, text, sculpture, installation, art in public spaces, performance, and photography. Walla’s art is extremely closely connected with his biography or, more precisely, his notions about himself and his person. Setting out from the death of Walla’s grandmother and his fear of losing his mother, the  artist led a lifelong battle against death. The concept of eternity – into which his grandmother had entered, according to the Christian faith – took on great significance for him. For Walla, there was a time before eternity – an “Ewigkeitvorherzeit” (Before-eternity-time), the time before his grandmother’s death – as well as an “Ewigkeitende” (Eternity-end), which suggests something new after the end of eternity and does not mean the end. The notion of the end of eternity plays a major role in Walla’s thought; the words "Ewigkeitende” and its synonym “Weltallende” (Universe-end) form a common thread running through his entire oeuvre. In this context, he created a universe based on his private mythology.

Walla was uncertain about his gender identity, that is, whether he was a girl or a boy. His interpretation was that during the Nazi period, he had been a “Nazi girl,” but that he was subsequently made into a “Communist double-boy” in the course of a “Russian operation” carried out when Austria was occupied by Russia. This sex-change myth also explains his frequent use of political emblems, which had an entirely personal signifi cance for him: A reverse swastika turned to the left stood for the feminine and the hammer and sickle for the masculine. Walla often used political emblems as well as symbols and attributes that he borrowed from existing motifs and then transformed.

His oeuvre features an intense relationship to written language and a passion for words from foreign languages. Walla’s private and secret language, which he called “Welltallendefremdsprache” (Universend-end-foreign-language), consists of terms created out of foreign and German words. Furthermore, he displayed a taste for abbreviations like KPÖ (Communist Party of Austria); NSDAP (National-Socialist German Worker’s Party), or DDSG (Danube Steamboat-Shipping Company). Walla’s innumerable writings, most of them written in calligraphic script, can be found in notebooks and folders, on used pieces of paper, old boxes, boards, and pieces of metal, on the street, walls, trees, and so on.

The diversity of the materials used as supports is matched by that of the materials the artist applied to them. In 1986 he began creating large-format canvasses, which are painted on their front and reverse sides: Here, in addition to traditional acrylic paints, he uses chalk, charcoal, markers, stamps, and band-aids, among other things. The most important artistic work is his room, which he began decorating in 1983, when he moved into the House of Artists. Over the years, he painted its walls, ceiling, windows, and door with acrylics, enamel paints, and turpentine – often in multiple layers. The result is a monumental work that represents Walla’s religion and universe, but also includes himself and his family. It almost resembles a chapel, where we fi nd paintings reminiscent of altarpieces, which tell a creation story featuring the earth and “Eternity’s-end-land,” on the one hand, and visualize the divine world on the other.

Walla also used his body to evoke his mythical-magical universe, both in private and public spaces. In doing so, he carried out different poses and gestures with or without objects he had made for himself. He had his mother record these actions in photographs. Beyond these documentary photos, Walla began creating his extensive and very heterogeneous photo-graphic oeuvre in the late sixties. It encompasses landscapes, interiors, and the documentation of his work. The subjects of the photos are found and collected objects, which he then used to create plaques, wooden boxes, flags, and many other things, which represent his sculptural oeuvre.


August Walla was born in Klosterneuburg on June 22, 1936; he grew up with his mother, Aloisia Walla, and his grandmother Rosina Walla. He had more or less no contact with his father, Augustin Gutmayer. His mother, who had a skilled position at the postal service, and his grandmother were the people to whom Walla was most attached. Thus, it is not surprising that his grandmother’s death when he was 6 was a very formative experience for him. This event also forms the beginning of Walla’s private mythology.

Walla began public day care at the beginning of 1940 and elementary school in Klosterneuburg in 1942. From ages 7 to 9, he spent more than two years in homes, because of abnormal behavior. These included the municipal child-welfare facility “Am Spiegelgrund” on Vienna’s Baumgartnerhöhe, which went down in history for the crimes of euthanasia committed there. According to the Binet intelligence test, Walla was found normal for his age group, and this presumably saved his life. At that point, notes in his medical records already refer to – in the widest sense – creative drawings by the young Walla. On February 12, 1945, Walla returned back to his mother in Klosterneuburg; his schooling ended in the summer of 1951.

Between 1952 and 1975, he was admitted for a total of six stays of varying length at what was then the “Mental Health and Care Facility at Gugging.” Walla repeatedly threatened to set himself on fi re; in addition, his stays were also connected with a kind of supervision when his mother was unable to take care of her son because of her own hospitalizations.

He first experienced recognition as an artist when Leo Navratil, a psychiatrist at the facility in Gugging, discovered his artistic talent in 1970. Navratil was struck by Walla’s large, stylized handwriting and had him make a drawing whose content surprised him. Walla did not just fulfi ll his request to draw a person – the artist hidden inside of him revealed his entire philosophy and all his means of artistic expression to the world around him.

Until 1983 Walla and his mother lived in different apartments in Klosterneuburg, which also served him as a surface for expressing himself artistically. He decorated his surroundings by externalizing his philosophy and the entire spectrum of his art; this also led him to completely fill the community-garden plot where the Wallas spent their summer months in the Au-region along the Danube with his inscriptions, emblems, and symbols. In November of 1983, Walla and his mother moved into what is now the House of Artists, because both of them were no longer able to take care of themselves.

Walla’s room immediately became a playground for his creativity. He covered the entire room with paint, from the walls to the ceiling. From 1987 to 1988, a “second” room was created. Canvases were set up in front of his room’s walls: Walla painted them and they were subsequently presented as a “room” at exhibitions in various places. In 1984 Walla painted the Image DEVIL.GOD.! on the facade of the House of Artists. In the same year, he created a ceramic wall entitled Paradise, which measures over six meters (twenty feet) in length.

In 1986 Walla painted a circus wagon for André Heller’s art project “Luna Luna.” The contributors to this project also included artists like Keith Haring, Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Salvador Dalí. In 1990, together with the Artists from Gugging, Walla received the Oskar-Kokoschka-Preis for achievements in contemporary art. After his 97-year-old mother died in 1993, his artistic oeuvre became transformed. The themes and content changed: The mythological themes disappeared, and he shifted his attention to the contents of everyday life, such as eating. This period continued until his death on July 7, 2001.

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