Going underground

Vienna is a guarded, secretive city, where people go about their business privately, and very often, quite literally, turn underground. When I think of the artistic climate in which we live, the prevailing worship of autobiographical indulgence and ill-eduated expressiveness, it’s no surprise that artists who care for draughtsmanship, intelligent mark-making and the knowledgeable construction of pictures exist at the fringe. Without even a chance to secede, for we were never admitted in the first place, we retire to the cellars beneath our city and keep our happy occupations among ourselves.

Only, we ourselves have grown so much since we tentatively began meeting over a common interest in investigating the human form. Our collective expands and changes, absorbing new members with their own priorities, and our sessions adapt organically, organisational responsibilities shift hands, emphases adjust. But our many faces reflect a common conviction that makes us something of a movement: our very existence asserts with Wittgenstein (1953: 178),

‘Der menschliche Körper ist das beste Bild der menschlichen Seele.’

(‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul.’)


© Christine Schmidl















On Thursday we put on our second group exhibition. Our familiar Keller was bursting at the seams, filled with the merry faces of our dear friends and families, of long-lost acquaintances; the walls were decked with the astonishingly diverse works of twenty artists—some amateurs, some professionals, some students, some in sister artistic fields, and at all stages in between. Quick, gestural notations hung alongside careful, long-term studies; painted portraits beside pencilled figure drawings; shape-laden abstractions beside colour-drenched impressions of the figure; animated marker drawings next to fresh digital works.

Our hunger for more visual material connects us with so many other circles—our friends include musicians and dancers and scientists who all submit to our voracious appetite for interesting faces. It also means we are fortunate enough to be closely acquainted with exceptional musicians who enchanted us with Grieg and Debussy, performing with gravity and with spunk, showing us that finely-tuned expressive control over their auditory media which we search for in our own visual ones.


© Christine Schmidl








If Vienna has taught me anything about life, it’s that if you can’t find your place, go underground. Rilke (1997 [1903]: 14) urges us from the distant past,

‘Sie sehen nach außen, und das vor allem dürften Sie jetzt nicht tun. Niemand kann Ihnen raten und helfen, niemand. Es gibt nur ein einziges Mittel. Gehen Sie in sich.’

(‘You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can help and advise you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.’) And when you turn inward, sometimes you are pleasantly surprised to find that you are not alone after all, and the like-minded fringe-dwellers will find you. The glamorous, reticent yet ebullient Vienna of our dreams is alive and well, and eluding you just beneath the surface.


© Christine Schmidl








Rilke, Rainer Maria. 1997. Briefe an einen jungen Dichter / Briefe an eine unge Frau. Diogenes: Zürich.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. Philosophische Untersuchungen / Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Basil Blackwell: Oxford.


Gemütliche Gesellschaft

Diana (oil on linen)

Diana (oil on linen)

Our peripheral community of artists in Vienna is steadily growing. Our fluid group moves between two locations: Mikes Werkstatt in the third district and Kaffeebar Quentin in the seventh. Our sessions have evolved from weekly gatherings in a Wohnküche to consume most evenings of the week. Sometimes we draw costumed models, sometimes we paint portraits sustained over many weeks, sometimes we focus on short poses, sometimes we concentrate on fundamentals of drawing.

But all this close contact and mutual interest in working from life has forged a pleasant and vibrant little society, and we are excited to share our most recent projects in a group show early next month in Takt Keller, 1090 Vienna! We are well-practiced in carving out cosy and secretive burrows in the hidden nooks of Vienna, and we invite you to enjoy a little hospitality and the musical talents of our gifted friends while you cast your eyes over our work.

Thursday, 7 April, 2016
Galerie Takt
Ingen-Housz-Gasse 2, 1090 Wien


The above painting is partly from life, partly a study of Titian. I wrote a little about it here.


Common ground

Takt Keller

It’s amazing to think that despite Vienna’s rich artistic history, our young sketch group is somewhat on the periphery. Life drawing doesn’t hold the privileged position it once did in artistic circles, and our group exists only out of the sheer determination to grasp after a manner of learning that has been all but lost. And so, in the city of Klimt and Schiele, whose life drawings and impressively knowledgeable figure paintings attract visitors by the busload, we found ourselves holding a ‘first ever’ group show for our motley collective.

Takt Keller2

We welcomed a cellar-full of visitors and found ourselves needing to explain why such a group might exist, and what we hoped to gain from this endeavour. It wasn’t obvious to our guests that an artist might draw regularly as a musician might practice scales, or that the life model provides a testing ground for consolidating new learning. A solitary worker has much to gain from some like-minded company, and saves a little money on a costly resource by sharing in a group. The regularity of such sessions keeps the brain active and responsive and focused. And the private, fundamental work that goes on in such groups supports and strengthens our personal work that we more usually present to the world.


And so, the exhibition was a furtive backstage pass to see the inner workings of the minds of a diverse group of painters, illustrators, animators and designers. Despite our different intentions and varied efforts, a common strategy unites us, and it was wonderful to display this commonality to others. Our visitors may observe our shared origin—a respect for the fundamentals of drawing—and see for themselves how we diverge from here and go on to make original creative works.


I usually work in pencil at our sketch group, thinking about the construction of the figure, how to represent the three-dimensional volumes, and always trying to improve the energy and fluency of my lines. I think good draughtsmanship is fundamental to good painting, and wanted to emphasise this by exhibiting clear, strong drawings. I chose to show works that demonstrated such stripped-back thinking: three-dimensional blocks arranged in perspective, an emphasis on weight through the body, the search for connections between the parts to form a pleasing whole.


Despite being underground and on the periphery, important things are happening here. I hope that our determined efforts inspire others in our broader intellectual community. The time is ripe for action!


If you’d like to draw with us, find our groups on Facebook: Sketch Group Vienna (Thursday evenings) and Life Drawing Vienna (Sunday evenings). A heartfelt thank you to Alexandra Kornienko for her untiring efforts to make the sketch sessions and the exhibition possible. You are a star. x


A Viennese soirée


Very soon I will be reunited with my Viennese contingent, and together we will be celebrating our twice-weekly sketch groups with a delightful little group show. I am pleased to be exhibiting several drawings which I hope demonstrate my studious motivation for attending the groups: working drawings that seek out form, weight, and the elegant rhythms that run through the human form, and that try to express these things with economical but energetic lines.

Our two groups, which meet at Mikes Werkstatt and Kaffeebar Quentin, are young and motivated, and through them I have made many significant friendships. We work independently, untutored, and simply pool our resources to be able to work from the model as often as possible.

Cakes, wine, art, music and general debauchery will be taking place at Takt Keller, Ingen-Housz-Gasse 2, 1090 Wien, from 19.00 on Saturday 3 October. The perfect way to kick off Lange Nacht der Museen! Bis dann! x