by Doris Knecht
Maybe you got to know to Franziska Maderthaner near your summerhouse, at the opening of a group exhibition in an ambitious country gallery she provided with one of her works. Maybe you’ve wanted to meet her for a long time, having heard so many interesting and amusing things about her. Perhaps, in the course of this vernissage, with a glass of wine in hand, you slowly headed in her direction and, when you reached her, started some small talk. You might not be that great at small talk, maybe you are even bad at it. So, smiling awkwardly, you’d possibly said something stupid, like: did she plan to exhibit here often. And Franziska Maderthaner would beam at you and reply: No offence, but I actually play in a whole different league.
Most women, in this context, would’ve said something polite, some kind of affirmative blah blah. Not Franziska Maderthaner. She is not in this world to submit to conventions, or to prove someone right who is not. She’s a no bullshit person, and in a very unaggressive way: totally friendly, totally cordial. She has a big laugh. But Franziska Maderthaner also knows what she’s capable of, and why she can do it. She knows she’s unique in her field, and one of the best, and she knows she’s that way since many years now. For hours at a time daily, she’s been working on her paintings, because she’s been relentlessly perfecting her talent. What normal person would let this kind of achievement be talked down and trivialized, for the sake of manners, due to some equalizing reflex? Exactly. Franziska Maderthaner wouldn’t either.
And that makes me take to her right away. That’s how you do it, just like that. And maybe that’s also why her paintings are so incredibly powerful.
In the meantime, I have learned two or three more things. She is punctual, i.e, when one says it starts at seven, then she’s there at seven—with a bottle of wine and a homemade cake, already cut into slices, on a piece of cardboard that she has cut to size; she’s also very practical. Her wardrobe is as colorful as her paintings. She’s almost always in a good mood, and if she isn’t, she keeps it to herself. She’s inquisitive and eager to show you things, objects, places. Maderthaner’s house is orderly and her garden, let’s be honest, not worth talking about. Since nothing should distract her from painting, nothing in her life can grow to be so important that her painting comes up short.
Maderthaner subordinates everything to her painting, it’s her focus, nothing is more crucial to her. She does, however, need something to balance the painting with: long marches and extensive bike tours across the fields and wooded hills in the area where she lives (she is in enviable physical shape); conversations with her significant other Michael; cooking for her friends; travelling with lots of art. What she doesn’t do well is: sitting around, not doing anything. She’s not really as cool as she as acts, something you realize if you’re invited to her birthday party, that starts with champagne and finger food in the courtyard of her Waldviertel (Forest Quarter) country house, where she flutters about, surprisingly nervous, to make sure that—everything is ok? Yet when her birthday party moves on to the local fire department to celebrate the summer solstice, she is wonderfully at home there. She spent summer vacations here with her parents in the 1970s, here people have been calling her Franzi ever since she was a small child, here she chats with people, drinks spritzers out of cups, eats sausages and french fries from paper plates, and dances by the fire to Blondie. The Tide is High but I’m Holding On. Yes.
The next day, she’ll still manage to paint, from morning to night. If one must attribute a character trait to Maderthaner then it is: passion. But passion Maderthaner-style is not a mad passion, not the cut-your-ear-off kind of passion we like to associate with some artists. Her passion has nothing insane or self-destructive about it. Her passion is athletic and fast forward. It’s a feisty, open, curious passion that she couples with accuracy and extreme diligence, that she doesn’t deliver to herself, but directs at an outcome: the perfect picture. Maderthaner lets it all out when she paints, but she can reel it in anytime. She can do this because it belongs to her. Because she controls it. Craft, art, life: everything is hers, everything is superb.
Doris Knecht is a writer (“Gruber geht,” “Besser,” “Wald,” “Alles über Beziehungen”) and columnist. She lives with her family and friends in Vienna and the Waldviertel (Forest Quarter).