Oswald Tschirtner

1920 - 2007

  • Ein Besen, 1972, ink on paper, 19,5 x 14,8 cm
  • Ein Tannenwald, 1988, ink on paper, 14,6 x 20,8 cm
  • Der Friede auf Erden, 1984, ink on paper, 21 x 14,8 cm
  • Segelschiffe, 1989, ink on paper, 14,8 x 21 cm
  • Ohne Titel (Heiligenbild), 1982, ink on paper, 30 x 22 cm

He was born in 1920 in Vienna. After his military service, he developed schizophrenia and from 1947 lived at the Landeskrankenhaus Maria Gugging in Klosterneuburg in Austria. In the 1970s, inspired by Leo Navratils, he began to draw.
Tschirtner’s main motifs are elongated human figures, drawn with ink, a thin swirling line, rising upwards on the picture plane. Beginning at a point on the lower border, he reduces without interruption extremely minimalized compositions, describing people from his environment, Christian saints or illustrated figures.

Loneliness and wit – what role do they play in the work of an artist who lives in a psychiatric clinic? Particularly those inhabitants of the Artists’ House at the psychiatric clinic Gugging in Klosterneuburg, founded by the physician and psychologist Leo Navratil who is responsible for establishing acceptance for the art of the so-called mentally ill in the contemporary art scene.

Oswald Tschirtner is such an artist. Since 1946, he has lived continuously in psychiatric institutions. Originally he had wanted to become a pastor but studied chemistry after he failed to gain acceptance to study theology. As a soldier in World War II he was held in a French prisoner of war camp, where he began to suffer from psychosis. He was admitted to Klosterneuburg in 1954. When in the 1970s Leo Navratil established the now legendary Artists’ House in Gugging, he had long become aware of the artistic talents of many of his patients. Going beyond the requirements of their specified therapy, some of them showed a distinctive artistic style of breathtaking conciseness and certainty of execution. Oswald Tschirtner was known for his narrow high-reaching figures that begin at the lower edge of the picture border and develop upward in an extremely reduced line; in these figures loneliness and wit are bonded in an enchanting combination. Alongside these typical Tschirtner motifs there exist numerous sheets from the 1970s on which the artist – inspired by the therapeutic themes and tasks – has portrayed people from his immediate environment. His inclination was not to make detailed sketches, rather he developed his reductive style which came to represent the distinctive personal style of his art. The portraits drawn with a fine forceful line represent numerous artists who at one time lived in the Artists’ House Gugging and have since passed away. With a few simple circles Tschirtner makes allusions to windows in the backdrop. Despite the rapidity of his graphic strokes, he includes essential details. Also interesting are his interpretations of illustrations in the books Struwwelpeter and Geschichte der Heiligen Drei Könige [Story of the Three Magi]. Even though it is possible that in different circumstances Tschirtner may not have attempted drawing of his own volition, the minimal graphic solutions that he has produced in which sometimes a single stroke may constitute a completed work, leave no doubt that he had found his element in art.

Jürgen Kisters