Life and work

1921, December 8 - 1998, April 10


As one of the fi rst draftsmen from Gugging, Philipp Schöpke had already begun making test drawings at the request of Leo Navratil by the end of the sixties. These drawings, done partly with pencils and colored pencils, depict bizarre-looking figures with trans parent bodies, in which the inner organs can be recognized. The heart, ribs, and intestines, but also the genitals are clearly depicted and often even extend through the limits of the body. The heads display several unusually large teeth. The artist also transferred this system, where the body’s innards are visible through the skin in images of people, to other living creatures like dogs, seals, and fish.

Schöpke also maintained this form of accentuating his figures later in his career, when he expanded his motifs to include everyday situations like soccer matches or a horse and rider. He began working in larger formats, although his sheets rarely exceeded 100cm (40 in.). During the eighties, the heads in his images of men and women became larger and larger, and the number of teeth multiplied into the hundreds. In his late work, the artist became dissatisfied with his depictions of people, because he suffered from a strong tremor, and he began to first sketchily depict the figures and then cover the entire sheet with a dynamic and intense concentration of colored lines, leading to a heightened emotional expressivity in his works.


Philipp Schöpke (1921–1998) was born in the Lower Austrian town of Erlach and suffered from learning disabilities as a child. He entered the military, but was declared unfi t to serve after several weeks, because he made too many mistakes and was always in an exuberant mood. He tried working as an unskilled laborer at a foundry and in street construction, but he had to enter psychiatric facilities multiple times because of obsessive ideas. From 1956 onward, Schöpke remained permanently at the “Mental Health Care Facility at Gugging”; in 1981, he then moved to what would become the House of Artists, because he had drawn attention with his drawing.

Schöpke’s life was marked by phases of mania that alternated with phases of depression, in which he became entirely withdrawn. Schöpke was calm during these periods: He would sit in a corner, not participating in social life, and could not be motivated to do anything. These episodes could last for months. As though waking from a dream, the artist would emerge afterwards and act as though nothing had happened. However, he was not oblivious during these periods: He perceived everything around him and would also talk about these things during his subsequent active phases.

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