Günter Brus

Austrian artist

Günter Brus (27 September 193810 February 2024) was an Austrian painter, performance artist, graphic artist and writer. He was the main figure of Viennese Actionism alongside with Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. From 1964 to 1970, he was doing actions, from 1970 focuses mainly on Bild-dichtungen and drawings.



Nervous Stillness on the Horizon (2006)


essays: Monika Farber, "Painting Excess: From Body Painting to Action Art" John C. Welchman, "Of(f) White" Manuel Assensi, "Arte Cisoria - The Art of Carving" Johanna Schwanberg, "'It's not me that's alive - it's my art: Günter Brus: From Actionist to Image-Poet"

Brus, Günter (2005). Monika Faber. ed. Nervous Stillness on the Horizon. Actar. ISBN 84-96540-19-7. 

  • It′s always seemed odd to me that people don′t paint with both hands. I mean, if I′m technically so shackled that I can′t paint with my hair, stomach or bottom, what about my other hand? You′ve got to live in painting. All-round painting... Indefinable space-at least indefinable in traditional terms-that′s what I require of my paintings. There must be absolutely no central focus... There can be no progress until that damned centre has been eliminated... My paintings are sublimated stamping,screaming and hissing-I try to translate a process experienced physically into a physically visible one.
    • P. 106 (1960)
  • I covered the walls of both basement rooms with Milino,a cheap substitute for canvas,stretched string backwards and forwards across the rooms and attached widths of packing-paper to them,so that they reached down to the floor and as far as the walls that I wanted to paint. I wanted to create a labyrinth which would somehow help to prevent a compositional idea from establishing itself all too quickly. I had the idea of working on all the walls pretty well at the same time,as if they were one large painting completely surrounding me. By constantly wandering in the labyrinth I sought to realise a form of “de-composition”.
    • P. 114 (1985)
  • Using the scanty means at my disposal I attempted to paint the room together with several objects that I had gathered together,white on white. The white room is an interior to be made devoid of any specific sensualism emanated by objects. Ultimately it is a classic white canvas expanded into three-dimensional space. It was in these surroundings that I rolled across the room,my body wrapped up in pieces of white cloth like a pile of parcels. The pieces of cloth unwound themselves from my tense body,which for a long time remained in a catatonic position,with the soles of both my feet stuck as it were to the wall.[...] I had planned to do some bodypainting for the second part of the performance.[...] At first I poured black paint over the white objects,I painted Anni with the aim of making a “living painting”. But gradually a certain uncertainty crept in. This was caused by jealous fight between two photographers,which ended by one of them leaving the room in a rage.[...] My unease increased,as I became aware of the defects in my “score”-and should this not have any,the mistakes in the way I was translating it into actions. Recognising this,I succumbed to a fit of painting which was like an instinct breaking through. I jammed myself into a step-ladder that had fallen over and on which I had previously done the most dreadful gymnastic exercises,and daubed the walls in frantic despair-until I was exhausted. The very last hour of “informel”. Mühl angrily ridiculed my relapse into a “technique” that had to be overcome.
    • P. 120 (1985)
  • My body is the intention. My body is the event. My body is the result.
    • P. 187 (1966)
  • “Ritual” might be an acceptable term, if shorn of its overtly religious connotations.For me,breaking taboos became nothing less than a stylistic means. I allowed my body, my self, to be pushed into such extreme situations that certain norms of social behaviour could only appear utterly absurd to me.
    • P. 163 (1984)
  • Total actions are a further development of the happening and combine the elements of all art forms, painting music, literature, film, theatre, which have been so infected by the progressive process of cretinisation in our society that any examination of reality has become impossible using these means alone. Total actions are the unprejudiced examination of all the materials that make up reality. Total actions take place in a consciously delineated area of reality with deliberately selected materials. They are partial, dynamic occurrences in which the most varied materials and elements of reality are linked,swapped over,turn on their heads and destroyed. This procedure creates the occurrence. The actual nature of the occurrence depends on the composition of the material and actors′ unconscious tendencies. Anything may constitute the material: people, animals, plants, food, space, movement, noise, smells, light, fire, coldness, warmth, wind, dust, steam, gas, events, sport, all art forms and all art products. All the possibilities of the material are ruthlessly exhausted. As a result of the incalculable possibilities for choices that the material presents to the actor,he plunges into a concentrated whirl of action finds himself suddenly in a reality without barriers, performs actions resembling those of a madman,and avails himself of a fool′s privileges,which is probably not without significance for sensible people. Old art forms seek to reconstruct reality,total actions unfold within reality itself. Total actions are direct occurrences(direct art),not the repetition of an occurrence,a direct encounter between unconscious elements and reality(material). The actor performs and himself becomes material: stuttering, stammering, burbling, groaning, choking, shouting, screeching, laughing, spitting, biting, creeping, rolling about in the material.
    • P. 166 (1966/1972)
  • Oswald Wiener had just dropped by. We were watching a football world championship game. Suddenly,in the middle of a game with Germany,the reporter said,“Bertie Vogts slid in like an Irrwisch [Jack-o’-Lantern]”. Eureka! That was the title I was looking for,and Oswald wiener commented,“That fits perfectly-an irrer Wisch”
    • P. 196 (2002)
  • I think my actions,like those of my associates,were possible in this form only in vienna. Our heritage was the vienna secession and Austrian expression,and that,along with the violent disapproval of our work,explains not only its frequently overwrought and aggressive character,but also its radical psychological insights.
    • P. 135 (2002)
  • Self-painting is a further development of the art of painting. The surface of an image has lost its function as the sole means of conveying expression. It was taken back to its roots,to the wall,to the object,to the living being,to the human body. By using my body as a means of conveying expression,the result created is a happening captured by a camera as it progresses,and an experience which viewers can share.
    • P. 140 (1985)
  • The white room is an interior to be made devoid of any specific sensualism emanated by objects. Ultimately it is classic white canvas expanded into three-dimensional space.
    • P. 144 (1985)
  • Pure painting or the art of drawing whose point of departure is based on purely formal criteria is,in my opinion, passé. I do not reject it if other artists make attempts,but as far as I am concerned,this is what I believe. if I do not place a text next to my drawings,I consider the work on such programmes to be futile.
    • P. 208 (1993)
  • In simple terms: art has not been a public nuisance for quite a while now. either the people have become well-behaved or the perpetrators of nuisances have become tired.
    • P. 208 (2003)
  • Art is gushing hot bile on the fields and harvesting the looks of nasty dwarfs.
    • P. 216 (2003)
  • The seven dwarfs were devastated when an eighth joined them one morning before they went to work. He went straight into their house,took little plates and cutlery out of his waistcoat,grabbed the mining tools and was the first dwarf to set off for work. Caught off-guard by his cheeky but honest manner,the others followed,angry because he was showing them the way along the path they took every day and surprised when they found he had turned into dark grotto into a glass palace with Snow White hewn in gold. For these established prospectors it was terrible to behold the intruder appropriating for himself the right to mine the virgin goldmine.
    • P. 216 (1993)
  • I want to cover all areas that can be depicted visually. This ranges from fairytales to attempts to enter the abstract and view oneself as a social outcast or someone struggling to stay alive.
    • P. 218 (1987)
  • Art is created in a state of delirium. Anyting else is the restoration of monuments. Collectors are artist that do not have a home. they have to make one for themselves.
    • P. 226 (2003)
  • In fact,my art generally nauseated me. Often,when I wanted to set down a poem on an uncontaminated piece of paper,I′d start feeling sick and I did actually throw up in front of many drawings. I tremble all over in front of each picture-poem and before every action I would swallow a jar of pressed vine vermin. Time and again I strove for a kind of non-art,and time and again I failed,like a chimpanzee wanting to throw away a banana without peeling it. My disgust at producing art naturally atracted collectors,and ocassionaly photographers.
    • P. 238 (2002)
  • My picture-poems are linguistic margins on visual atolls.
    • P. 250 (2003)
  • For me,the Bild-Dichtung[image-poem] is the ideal form,because the drawing process is constantly being interrupted or contrasted by the writing. And since I always have something to say when I am writing,the effort has a balancing effect. Drawing and writing are wonderful complements.
    • P. 258 (2002)
  • Writing without making mistakes is like vomiting hot air.
    • P. 261 (2003)
  • Poetry is when words are robbed of their attributed truth.
    • P. 261 (2003)
  • In a certain sense,I never left Actionism as I understood it to this very day. Today,I work in “sittings” that are very similar to the course of the actions. Only the stage has changed on which the presentation takes place.
    • P. 264 (2003)
  • The pencil-stroke is like cutting into the heart.
    • P. 8 (Gunter Brus Werkumkreisung,op.cit, p. 128.)
  • My thinking at that time was determined by a kind of willfully repressed pleasure[Freude] in Freud ,and I wanted to be as artistically direct as plumber illustrating the history of art with a spanner.
    • P. 12 (Introductory text to the portfolio Transfusion,1990.)
  • Analogously to Arnulf Rainer′s ‘overpaintings’,and extending these with my own actionistic resources, the artist′s head should be in the picture ,should become one with the picture, and disappear in it.
    • P. 12 (Gunter Brus inDie Schastrommel.Organ der österreichischen Exilregierung.Bolzano:ed. Gunter Brus,June 1972,no.8a, p. 57.)
  • Being covered in white paint ,you demonstrate behaviour intended to create a public nuisance,which did in fact cause offence to members of the public ,and created a breach of the peace and public order.
    • P. 14 (Cit.after LockerWiener Aktionismus.Der zertrümmerte Spiegel.Wien1960-1971,op.cit., p. 299.)
  • Color will play no part in the art of future.
    • P. 20
  • I hate people,who force their way through at traffic accidents to see blood. They...rape and dismember virgins,and have orgies.
    • P. 25 (1962) (Brus,letter,January 1962;cited inVon der Aktions Malerai zum Aktionismus:Wien 1960-1965,op.cit., p. 194.)
  • You become an artist to upset your family.
    • P. 51 (Gunter Brus.Nach uns die Malflut!Pheoretische Poesien.Klagenfurt:Ritter Verlag,2003, p. 135)
  • Creative children do not paint. They mess around. If they have to draw,creative children always end up being the ridiculous kind of child,who produces childern′s drawings Creative children wipe spinach round their gobs,that′s all. Any thing more that these crappy daubnings is the result of education-and before long we′re on a level with Paul Klee.
    • P. 51 (Ibid., p. 45.)
  • As a boy,I was extremely shy,certainly as a result of my upbringing. I was an expert blusher,and some of my harsh actions may echo this shyness by way of compensation.
    • P. 51 (Gunter Brus in conversation with Johanna Schwanberg,graz,16 April 1997,in connection with an interview for the Spectrum section of the newspaper Die Presse, published in the issue of 26 April 1997 under the title Ich war Spezialist im Erroten, p. III.)
  • Majorca,Spring 1960: As chance would have it-and chance always has something up its sleeve-I bumped into another academic renegade. He was about to leave for Majorca,where,he said,two stone houses were waiting for him and for me. So off we went. On the boat from Barcelona it was bitterly cold,and I arrived in Palma like a lump of ice on two sticks. My stone house was an aesthetic delight,especially as there was no furniture at all in it. We made straight for the local fishing village,where we soon met an Englishman suffering from a skin disease who lent us two matrasses. Later,other European artistic refugees arrived at the Café Marinero, including a Pole called Foot who had fought in the French army against what he called "very romantic barbarians". he painted too, alternately in monochrome and in abstract expressionist style. Abstract Expressionism was the only style practised by Joan Merritt,a brilliant woman from the United States. She transformed an artistic nature reserve into a jungle. In Franco´s empire you had to report to the Guardia Civil once a week. It was the same ritual every time. You knocked on the door and a voice answered "Un momentino!" You waited until eventually receiving a very loud command: "Entra!" A man with a big stomach,a moustache and a cigar would be leaning backwards in his chair at a desk with an oversize telephone. You stood in silence. The official would pick up the receiver and make an official call. A pin-up calendar hung on the wall,displaying a senorita in a skin-coloured bathing costume. Then the official leafed through your passport and bashed a stamp into it. A second ritual was Sunday mass, the Catholic way. It was conveyed by loudspeakers to the outside world, so it could be heard miles away. A third ritual was collecting your post.For obvious reasons,the Generalísimo would not allow post offices all over the place. In our village he left things to an itinerant clerk-cum-supervisor. she set up her office in one "cervecería"or another, as fancy took her. You entered the room and nodded silently to the other foreigners,all of us always somehow suspicious. A mother´s-milk monster with strictly arranged hair, a Generalísima, would be sitting behind a table on which she´d piled letters that had arrived. When she wasn´t disappearing into a backroom she´d occasionally call out a name. The whole business often lasted as long as the deep sleep of a dreaming donkey. Once you´d been given your post you had to go to the man with the moustache and cigar. The first ritual was then repeated, before the stamped postage stamp was stamped out of existence. Despite this, life in the fishing village was genuinely worth living. The sun shone every day,the fish were cheap,the wine even cheaper and mineral water free. The café proprietor reaked of tobacco and his customers smelled a fish. One fisherman had lost three fingers,and the lavatory´s aroma lay over the whole room. Once,when I was drunk,I called the Englishman with skin disease a "fucking bastard" and he scratched away at his scabs in fury. Red wine flowed from the barrels and murky blood trickled out of eyes. Smoke rushed through the room,the landlord fell over a barrel and,unbelievably,got up straightaway and refilled his own and customers´ glasses with what he had. this time,it was a bitter-tasting liqueur,spiced with filterless Peninsulares cigarettes. everyone smelled of ham and sweaty feet,and you´d sometimes tread on a rotten olive. One day a blonde Danish woman came to the Café Marinero,got to know me and invited me to her house,where she showed me her housekeeper,a local,who was pining for her unfaithful boyfriend. And there was an American woman who introduced me to My Fair Lady. Finally,I met an émigré Mongolian fisherman who couldn´t swim and drowned without a hope in the world. The fishing village had a soporiphic effect. Even when you were sitting at the bar and had to look for the owner to order another glass of red wine,it felt as though you were in a dream. And you were still dreaming when you crept along the dusty alleys with their weathered walls to visit the village barber. That man cropped my hair once. He sat down in a chair he´d probably got from a doctor. He begun practising his craft behind my right ear,worked his way up to the parting-and then vanished. I looked through some magazines he´d probably got from a dentist. Eventually,I decided to get down from the chair,which he´d wound up high,and went through several alleys looking for him. And Io and behold- there he was,waving down at me from a roof he was helping to tile. There I stood, like a half-finished Mohican, and carried on dreaming. Having grasped the way, fatalistic system worked, I returned to the barber´s shop,where you could also buy sweets,soap,toothpaste
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