Manfred Deix. Good Vibrations

We take pleasure in presenting an exhibition of a very special kind at KunstHausWien: the work of the Austrian cartoonist and satirist Manfred Deix in a restrospective of the last 45 years. The show was conceived and compiled by Manfred Deixtogether with KunstHausWien.

Some 300 original works will be shown, along with sculptures, video installations and documentation. An exhibition catalogue will be published in German.

Manfred Deix is inexorably gifted. With the sure aim of a sharpshooter. Irksome for a world of lies. In the midst of a world which is not the way we want it to be. Someone our age needs like almost nothing else. It may be that his “caricare” is sometimes explicit, all right. Not always serving up a light meal for tenderhearted souls. But isn´t that just what he is supposed to do?

Deix is a versatile talent, an amazingly prolific artist who can do things with the paintbrush which one would hardly think possible. But that is not it. Behind that is a vulnerable, empathetic person who believes in a better world without pompously preaching about it himself; in a world it would be worth living in. Again and again one is perplexed by his pictures, but then bursts out laughing. What a likeness of him of her, delightful! But this wears off quickly when very soon after the laughter is stifled, because the thought behind it just won´t go away. And then one feels it rising within oneself: he´s right, of course that´s the way it is, exactly.

This “caricare”, which in Italian means literally “exaggerate, overload” digs itself right into us, triggered by the picture´s fascination. Thus, the scholarly definition of the cartoon (caricature) speaks of “depiction in which the subject is clearly recognisable, but individual traits appear exaggerated...” This is precisely what makes such a picture particularly capable of opening our eyes.

Manfred Deix was born in the Lower Austrian town of St. Pölten in 1949 the second child of Johanna and Franz Deix. His father an employee, his mother a housewife - thus Deix begins a remarkable autbiographical memoir whose absolutely delightful originality will be for the most part be quoted from verbatim below:

“Father since 1941 due to World War II one-armed”, he writes, “left arm gone. So I am amazed as a two-year-old that other fathers have one arm to many.” Later they tell him that already in his third year he had filled every paper bag he could get his hands on with drawings. “Two lesbians in a neighbouring flat lavish their attention on me (Aunt Steffi, Aunt Gusti).” “At 6 moved to our own house (St. Pölten-Eisberg, Kleiststraße 24).” Two daughters his age from neighbouring families provide the opportunity for first studies. Today he calls them “gratis medical exams on healthy subjects, as such far ahead of their time” so that from 1955 - he is a schoolboy at the Daniel Gran Elementary School - he experiences early success with “the first sales of nude drawings to the more curious of the fellow pupils (price 10-15 groschen apiece).” He notes “increased drawing activity” when the family moves to Böheimkirchen, where his parents take over the “Blue Grape” pub. The juke box installed there (Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley), television set and upright piano, “these god-like devices I use daily and draw all the time”. His parents begin planning their growing boy´s future. “You´ll be a publican or butcher, you´ll make a lot of money someday.” But after one year at vocational school his gift is all too obvious, and he switches to a finishing school in St. Pölten (1960). When he participates in a drawing contest sponsored by Austrian Radio called “Little Drawing Class” on the topic “The Pied Piper of Korneuburg” by sending in the picture of a murderer, the picture is disqualified. The reason: “We want drawings by children, not by grown-ups and pros! Wham. Sigh. My religion teacher then makes me, age 11, the offer that I can draw weekly comic strips for the Lower Austrian Church Newspaper. Which I do, becoming a regional star and a recognised draughtsman wunderkind.”

He also writes detective stories, does his own comic books, draws his own (secret) thumb cinemas (striptease), portrays pub regulars, dresses as a woman, causing old men some embarassment, illustrates his school notebooks, draws animals, “ugly people, in short anything that makes an impression on me.” Early on he indulges his liking for cats, always has three or four living with him, then he learns the boxing craft from a boxing journeyman butcher, trains and draws daily.

His future plans at this time - he is now 14 - are all about becoming either a boxer who can draw or a draughtsman who can box. And then he starts thinking about a career as a gynecologist. But first disappointments come, too. “See at 14 a certain Marietta, get very nervous, woo her, go for walks with her, smoke a lot, but make too little impression. Finished.”

When he hears about the “Graphic” in Vienna, he enrolls there in 1965 and begins his studies together with his colleagues and friends Bernhard Paul and Gottfried Helnwein. The big city gives him the feeling of great freedom. “We live from mini-jobs and make our way somehow (the jolliest time of our lives, laughing till tears come to our eyes day and night).” But something serious is still missing. “Cutting classes, for which after 2,5 years thrown out of school. In 1968 enrollment at the (Fine Arts) Academy on Schillerplatz and flare-up of the Marietta amour.”

Lives now in Vienna, “much hunger and much fun with Helnwein and Marietta”, as of 1970 in a tiny flat in the 3rd District “with Marietta, 2 cats, then 3, then 4, 5, 6 etc. Jobs for newspapers (profil, Trend etc.), enroll in 1975 to get out of military service, do drawings for Nenning´s Neue Freie Presse, gradually people know my name a bit. Marietta, in a very low-cut dress, sells my drawings at flea markets and in the Opera Passage with great succes, while I jealously watch the goings-on from a safe distance. Jobs pile up, honoraria are puny.”

But then things really get going. He works for Stern and Spiegel, can soon move into a flat in the city centre, whose life he enjoys to the fullest: “a regular in all kinds of dives, stand-up wineries, carousing it up with the last-rate boozers all night long, just the same a great time.”

His rise is now meteoric. In 1978 he can travel to the U.S. for the first time, particularly California; in 1979 he rents a small villa in the 14th District with Marietta, where he is now surrounded by 96 (!) cats. The commissions get more and more exciting (pardon, Titanic etc.), which also contributes to his not being able to fulfill his wish to paint great pictures, too. Shows and sales flourish. “Paint only commissioned pictures and cartoons for magazines in Germany and Austria, 1984 with Marietta to New York and Las Vegas (wedding), Los Angeles, meet the Beach Boys personally for the first time in Beverly Hills.” He is by now one of the most successful artists of painted criticism of contemporary affairs. People wait for his weekly commentary, his picture books are published in fantastic print runs, his ideas, his depictions really do get more delightful every time. What his life is like he describes himself: “Work, draw, smoke, booze, in 1988 pulmonary infarct, clinic, move to Weidling, in 1988 Nestroy Ring, beginning in 1993 billboard series for Casablanca fags, 1995 breakdown due to alcohol, as of November, 1995 merrymaking over, good-behaviour phase up to today... This was, in a rough sketch, a disorganised, incomplete life story.”

“Why I draw”, Deix remarks, “Because ever since I was a child I have never liked doing anything better than watching people, making fun of them, aping them, pestering and scaring them and, with the commensurate instrument of the cartoon, paying them back for their stupidities.” And he concludes, “.. but I know that I try much, much harder to be a nice, a good person, honest to God ...”

Billy Wilder wrote, “... I never met Deix in person, but I am one of his greatest admirers. Every time that Austrian magazine comes out my mouth starts watering... Deix doesn´t do any bad jokes or fatuous cartoons. He comments on the human condition and does it in a caustic way which has not been equalled since Karl Kraus. His themes are this nauseating smugness that pretends that nothing happened and the arrogance which proclaims that there was just nothing to it the way we produced the waltz, the guglhupf and the kiss of the hand, and the Danube is as blue as ever... Don´t worry, Manfred Deix is as good a marksman as William Tell in his best years.”

from: Walter Koschatzky “Unmasking. (In-)Human, All Too Human by Manfred Deix”

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