Work and life

1926, November 30 - January 7, 1996


Johann Hauser’s oeuvre is exceptional to the extent that this artist’s fi rst drawings already indicate both the motifs and stylistic characteristics that he would only modify or refi ne in the later periods of his work. Hauser was “rustic.” He was intellectually challenged and suffered from erethism, and that is also exactly how he handled his material: pencil and colored pencils and paper. At times he would gently, hesitantly, and carefully stroke the surface of his work uncertainly with his drawing utensil; even early on, he would then overcome this sense of modesty and use his pencil to battle against the paper with all his strength. Whether it was old memories of the war – which he had lived through and which gave rise to military aircraft, tanks, and ambulances – or his initially very uncertain, but soon budding erotic feelings toward women: Even particularly critical artists of his time, such as Arnulf Rainer or Peter Pongratz, found his depictions of these themes convincing. They were the ones who recognized Hauser’s qualities and also proclaimed them to the public. They paid homage to Hauser as their teacher or as that artist who had relegated the majority of other creators of art to the shadows. Hauser’s invention of “his” star – with its four irregular points and Prussian blue tone inside a contour drawn in pencil – also made him the leading symbolic representative of the Artists from Gugging: those autodidacts who, without any knowledge of “art,” create things of such significance specifi cally for this world. Ultimately, however, it was the theme of depictions of women that most fascinated Hauser and which he most frequently dealt with. In spite of the great number of works in which we see women who are clothed or naked and reservedly or demonstratively exhibit every feminine attribute, the artist succeeded in making every single image unique. Each drawing testifi es to the attraction that it exercised over its creator even during the creative process; every one of them became individual.
The individual phases in Hauser’s oeuvre can be clearly distinguished stylistically and his early phases associated with his manic states, between which he was initially incapable of creating drawings. From phase to phase, the artist continued to further develop his style until he finally arrived at an absolute pinnacle in the eighties. Supported by the encouraging words of the author, Hauser found the courage to take on larger formats, and he made these sheets into his most important works after some hesitation in front of the empty, white piece of paper.

The final period in the artist’s oeuvre followed, lasting from the late eighties until his death, and was somewhat less emotional and more balanced. His late period began after a threeyear hiatus between the autumn of 1986 and 1989: It built on his use of color in the eighties, but the effect is calmer and perhaps also somewhat more static. His oeuvre concluded with several major works, before Japanese flu unexpectedly ended his career.


Born in Slovakia, Johann Hauser had to move to Austria with his family during the Second World War. He was intellectually challenged and had phases of erethism, which his mother did not know how to deal with. After stays at a few other institutions, Hauser ended up at the “Mental Health and Care Facility at Gugging,” near Klosterneuburg. It was during diagnostic tests there that his drawing talent was discovered by his psychiatrist Dr. Leo Navratil, who published Hauser’s works in a psychiatric context. Regardless of this fact, the avant-garde artists of the sixties found his work fascinating and helped facilitate an initial exhibition together with his colleagues in 1970. Hauser quickly found collectors who were also prepared to pay a lot of money for his drawings, and his work also became disseminated in a non-psychiatric context.

Until 1986 his life was defined by intense mood swings that made it impossible for him to live on his own, because he either fought with everyone or else became depressed and inactive. After Navratil retired, Hauser’s illness was treated in such a way that it produced almost no more symptoms at all; the artist then spent three years devoting his attention exclusively to his personal relationships and social interactions. After that period, he began drawing again and created his late work, which demonstrates that – even without his manic phases – the artist possessed enough self-esteem and emotion to create magnifi cent works. He died on January 7, 1996, from a lung infection contracted during an epidemic of Japanese flu.

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