Money spoils the artist

Arik Brauer: "My first work was stolen"

Arik Brauer has seen many artist colleagues who have failed because of the lure of money. He himself never embarked on financial adventures. He would rather leave art to his children than just banknotes.

Die Presse: Mr. Brauer, do you have an overview of how many works you have created in your life so far?

Arik Brewer: Yes, around 2000. My work as a student is not counted here.

Highly productive.

As for the crowd, definitely. I can't help it. I get up in the morning and start painting. I live painting.

Is each of the pictures sold?

Most of them do. But I still own a few, 150 or even 200.

Is selling the pictures important to you, or do you paint for yourself?

Nobody paints for himself. It would be a lie to say otherwise. Nobody does anything at all just for himself. I want people to see the pictures, and I also want them to own them and be proud of them. If I were the last one on an island, I wouldn't paint. What for?

What role did money play at the beginning of your career?

I sang Hebrew folk songs with my wife in Paris. That was a base. And at the beginning I had to paint pictures of princesses because I needed the money. But that was actually a style break for me. During this time I exhibited intensively and also achieved a breakthrough. When I came back to Vienna, I was already an established artist.

Doesn't money spoil art?

That’s a tricky one. I have seen many colleagues who have failed because of the lure of money. Especially today's art students, who grow up in a time when money is at hand, easily fall into the idea that they just have to find some trick to get money and fame quickly.

Wrong way?

For someone for whom that is enough, it is the way to go. But most of them have no success with that either and then have to work something else or get married richly in order to afford the art.

Have you ever had a patron?

No, but I also come from another time. When I was a kid in the 1930s, a rich man was a fat man who could eat his fill. Ideally, he had a fried chicken cemetery (big belly, note), a golden chain on his waistcoat and the money always in his sack. Today a rich man has no more money in his pocket - he must have a mass that really doesn't exist anymore. That is why I have a certain attitude towards what is rich and what is poor.

And what does it look like?

There are no poor people in Central Europe. There are of course many personal fates, but even those who live on the streets are not familiar with the poverty that exists on other continents, where children actually starve to death because they are not given anything to eat. Here in Vienna in 1945, too, it was not about making money, but about where you can somehow get shoes and food. That has changed a lot over the decades. A lot of people then made careers and made money. And me too. I had my first car in the 1960s.

And has the money changed you?

That is difficult to say. When my wife and I entered this villa 40 years ago, I felt like I was going to steal apples from rich people. In Paris we lived in a hole. Today the house is mine. But I think that my character has not changed. As a poor person, I was never humiliated because everyone was poor back then. Anyone who is poor today is a failure.

Is poverty as you have experienced it a good breeding ground for art? To put it another way: do we have to look for good art outside Europe today?

This common image of the hungry and freezing artist fueled by art has a truth - but not an absolute truth. The really big works of art were created comfortably in felt slippers. Mozart and Leonardo da Vinci also lived well upholstered. But that doesn't mean that van Gogh wasn't a genius and died of misery. It turns out that one has nothing to do with the other directly.

What did you do with the money you made?

Since I was 30 years old, I've always had enough money to do whatever I wanted. We always had enough to go to Israel once or twice a year, I always had a car, we were always on ski holidays. But unlike Ernst Fuchs, I'm not a financial adventurer. I never borrowed money because it burdens me. And above a certain amount of money it becomes abstract anyway and is all about power. There is an upper limit beyond which more pleasure is no longer pleasure.

Have you reached that limit?

I don't have billions or millions. But I could buy this house with well-taxed money. Today I sometimes feel sorry for selling a picture.


My money is inherited, I can't eat it up. None of this belongs to me anymore. But the money I'm leaving is uncertain money. So I think maybe it is better if I leave more pictures for the children than banknotes.

Investors have also recognized this. Art is a sought-after financial asset. Do you mind?

This is not the case with me. I am in a price category that well-to-do doctors can afford. Museums that need a certain picture put down a lot more. I have already sold a painting for 100,000 euros, but that's not typical for me.

Do you know the buyers of the pictures?

Almost never at exhibitions. The gallery owners are afraid that the buyers could then buy directly from me in order to save the 30 to 50 percent fee to the gallery owners. Back then in Paris the gallery owners treated the artists like slaves in general. You were paid for the size of the pictures. If it went well, they got a tenth of the true value. If not, they were squeezed like lemons and then thrown away. It was a cruel time.

What did you get for your first picture?

My first work was not bought, it was stolen. In 1946 an exhibition on the subject of fantasy painting was organized in the foyer of the concert hall. I was there, Ernst Fuchs and a few others who no longer exist today. I put a small elongated picture on display and it was stolen. Then the fox said to me: “Now you have to be bold.” And I went in with cowboy steps and said: “Give me my money! A hundred schillings! ”That was a month's salary at the time. And I got the hundred schillings. It was a great triumph. Greater than anything that came after. [Clemens Fabry]


Arik Brewer (* 1929) is an Austrian artist and is considered the main representative of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. During the Nazi regime, the son of a Jewish shoemaker had to hide from the Nazis. After the war he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Vienna University of Music. Brauer lived in Paris for many years and now commutes between Vienna and Israel.

("Die Presse", print edition, May 23, 2016)