Finger Painting / Chaotic Painting

The first finger paintings were created in 1973. While working intensively on a large Face Farce, Arnulf Rainer broke his brush. In order to keep his rhythm and concentration, he continued painting with his fingers. He was fascinated by this immediate and quick access and the resulting direct translation of his emotions.

His first works of the 1970s are reduced and aggressive. Often, he simply applied one or two images onto the painting support with his hand, mostly using red paint in case his hand started bleeding. Later, the works became far more complex and chaotic. Rainer spent many years completing these pictures, repeatedly overpainting them with new colors and gestures after long interruptions. He worked very quickly and impulsively, slapping, wiping and hitting the painting support obsessively with his hands. The pictures created in this way are infinitely varied.

The works of the 1980s are characterized less by aggressive blows than by the traces his fingers left in the still-wet paint. A great variety of colors and forms merged into complex structures. Rainer constantly developed this technique further, creating an extremely subtle and refined pictorial language. As in the case of his overpaintings, the pictures subsequently became more ambiguous, mysterious and enigmatic, and the movements slower. Aggression gave way to articulation. Rainer began to formulate his pictures with his fingers. He started to focus specifically on using the pictorial language he had meticulously developed, merging it with traditional techniques to enhance the impulsivity and corporality of his works.

The artist himself became a painting tool. No modus operandi could be more direct. Thus the finger paintings were a logical further development of his body language.

“After I had spread out many sheets of cardboard on the floor, I crawled from one to the other in order to apply the paint in the form of smears, marks and traces. In this way, I developed a very physical painting style … my hands were always dirty, abraded and sore; it hurt my knees.”

(Arnulf Rainer, Gejammer, 1982, zitiert in: Arnulf Rainer, Ausst.Kat. Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Wien 1989, p.55)

(Text: Christa Armann)