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The controversial and unique Austrian artist Hundertwasser

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The modern artist and stamp collector/designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser was born in Vienna on December 15, 1928 as Friedrich Stowasser. Hundertwasser's fame was cemented by a mid-1970s world tour of his work through museums in the five continents.

In 1969 Hundertwasser bought an old wooden sailing boat that he took to Venice, rebuilt, and renamed Regentag (Rainy Day). For the next three years he sailed her around the Adriatic coast and painted as he went.

The filmmaker Peter Schamoni shot the film Hundertwasser Regentag on the boat and it was showcased at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. It was at this time that Hundertwasser developed more of an interest in the environment and in 1979 he 'went to war' against pollution. This was represented in most of his paintings.Painting with spirals

In 1949 Friedrich Stowasser, changed his name to Hundertwasser (100 calm waters) and began his extensive travels. He hated using straight lines and in 1953 he began painting with spirals.

In a remarkable artistic leap he moved from architectural macrocosm to the postage stamp. Hundertwasser had inherited a stamp collection from his father but had sold it to finance his first ever exhibition, at the Art Club in Vienna.

In an almost 30-year stamp career he designed around 30 stamps - for Austria, Cape Verde, Cuba, France, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Senegal and the United Nations. Although it wasn't specifically commissioned, his first stamp was for Cuba in 1967. It was part of a set to publicise the Salon De Mayo contemporary art exhibition in Havana. The 1c value showed his painting Night of the Drunken Female (Noche De La Bebedora).

It wasn't until 1975 that the Austrian Post Office commissioned Hundertwasser to design a stamp to inaugurate its Modern Art in Austria series. He chose a spiral tree design that was reproduced on a 4-schilling value (engraved by Wolfgang Seidel). This was followed by a series of Art stamps by artists chosen by Hundertwasser.

When President Leopold Senghor of Senegal opened the Salzburg Festival in 1977 he requested a meeting with Hundertwasser. This resulted in a friendship that led to Hundertwasser being invited to Dakar and whilst there he designed three stamps - The Black Trees, The Head, and The Rainbow Windows - that were issued on December 10, 1979.

By this time his philatelic reputation was established and, conscious of the immense far-flung power of postal communication, he devoted his production to images illustrating his innermost convictions. One such case was the 35th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1983. For it, Hundertwasser produced six stamp designs for the United Nations - two each for the UN offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna. They were Window Right and Treaty With Nature (US currency); Homo Humus Humanitas and Droit De Creer (Swiss currency); and Die Zweue Haut and Recht Auf Traume (Austrian currency). In 1984 he won the prize for the best stamp design of 1983 for the 1.20 Swiss franc stamp from the set. Also, in 1997 Hundertwasser was awarded a Grand Prix of German Philately at the Philatelia show in Cologne.

Under the auspices of the UN he designed stamps for the Earth Summit series of the Council of Europe in Vienna in 1993 and the stamps for the World Social Summit at Copenhagen in 1995. As well as this when Luxembourg became the cultural capital of Europe in 1995 he was asked to design an issue of three stamps.

Mark of national identity
In 1990 Hundertwasser wrote: 'A stamp must experience its destiny. A true stamp must feel the tongue of its sender when its glue is licked. It must experience the dark inside of the letterbox. The stamp must bear the postmark, it must feel the Postman's hand - a stamp that has not been sent on a letter is not a stamp as it has never lived. It is a precious piece of art that reaches everybody as a present from afar. The stamp must bear witness to culture, beauty and human creativity. The most viable mark of national identity becomes the most effective way to convey the message of harmony'.

In 1980 he flew to Washington DC where he was received by the Mayor, Marion Barry Jr., in person and November 18, 1980 was declared 'Hundertwasser's Day'.

Hundertwasser began to spend six months of the year in New Zealand and the other six months in Austria. He died after suffering a heart attack onboard the QE2 travelling back from New Zealand on February 19, 2000.

Following his passing in 2000, Austria issued a miniature sheet in his honour and as recently as October 22, 2004 Austria Post issued a stamp based on a Hundertwasser design and engraved by Wolfgang Seidel.