Werner Berg
1962 - 1981

Biography 1962 - 1981

In 1964 Heimo Kuchling published a book on Berg's woodcuts, which was honored as the year's most beautiful book at the Austrian Book Exhibition. Austrian National Television produced the film «Visiting Werner Berg».

Mauki's health was declining, and in November 1964 she suffered a heart attack. The Rutarhof, whose official owner was Dr. Amalie Berg, was inherited by her son Veit.

At the end of 1965 Werner Berg embarked on an artistically oriented journey to Holland and London.

Due to the marriages of his son Veit and his daughter Annette in 1966, Werner Berg faced radical changes in his life at the Rutarhof.

Werner Berg's work formed an important part of the UNESCO exhibition «Peace, Humanity and Friendship Among the Nations» in Slovenj Gradec. Together with Henry Moore and Ossip Zadkine he received honorary citizenship.

Due to the efforts of the Bleiburg baker Gottfried Stöckl, the City of Bleiburg, with the financial support of the Province of Carinthia, adapted a vacant house on the central square for a permanent Werner Berg exhibition in 1968. In rejection of everything having a smack of the museum world, the artist selected the name Werner Berg Galerie for this institution and put together a representative selection of his life's work. Initially, a two-year trial period of operation was agreed upon.

In 1969 the City of Bleiburg named Werner Berg an honorary citizen. However, due to the great demands it made on his time and his creativity, Berg wanted to give up the Bleiburg project, and thus the gallery remained closed for the following two years.

The serious illness of Berg's wife lay like a shadow across his artistic production during the late sixties. The strong colors gave way to a subdued, broken coloration. «Over everything, over all motifs deriving from the one theme of the fundamental area of existence lays the shadow of transience, of hopelessness, maybe also of the insufficiency of all created being, but with dignity and the posture of that which one can refer to as unquestioning readiness to meet destiny, endowed with and ripened into form,» wrote the art critic Jörg Lampe, a friend of Berg's.

The original multiplicity and pictorial power of pre-industrial agrarian life was to be encountered less and less; the technologization and industrialization of agriculture also transformed Werner Berg's immediate surroundings. At times tensions and conflicts arose on the farm between the artist and his son's young family. When Mauki Berg died on 9 April 1970, that which «had once been our Rutarhof life» had been forever altered for Werner Berg. Often he expressed doubt to his friends as to whether he could continue his work at the Rutarhof at all. For a year he felt incapable of doing artistic work.

In 1971 the Modern Gallery of Slovenj Gradec presented the most extensive retrospective of Werner Berg's work to date. He was named an honorary citizen of Gallizien, his community of residence. Motivated by his daughter Ursula, he resumed painting during the summer.

Following an extensive remodeling of the facility, the Werner Berg Galerie in Bleiburg was reopened in 1972 with a new hanging as a permanent institution.

In 1973 Werner Berg received the Culture Prize of the Province of Carinthia. Kristian Sotriffer published a work register of the woodcuts. An extensive catalog of the Bleiburg gallery with an introduction by Trude Polley appeared. These were the last books whose production Werner Berg agreed to. He refused all of the requests for publications or exhibitions made of him in the following years so as to be able to concentrate wholly on his work.

The placement of bilingual signs marking the communities in Carinthia's mixed language regions elicited a storm of nationalist outrage, in the wake of which Provincial Governor Hans Sima was removed from office. Werner Berg took a stand for the rights of the Slovene minority and participated in a demonstration for the Carinthian Slovenes in Klagenfurt. The Slovene writer Janko Messner compared Werner Berg's stance to that of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Berg received insulting and threatening letters from the German nationalist quarter.

Austrian National Television produced the film «The Painter Werner Berg» in 1974.

In 1974 and 1979 Werner Berg put together major exhibitions of his late work in Bleiburg. Starting in 1975 he made an annual presentation of his newest works in two rooms that had been built as an addition to the gallery.

In 1979 the filmmaker Wolfgang Lessowsky produced an extensive documentary film on Werner Berg entitled «A Life in Security Never Grasps the Mystery».

Berg’s living situation darkened. «La morte si sconta vivendo, » was the dictum by Giuseppe Ungaretti that he posted over the entry to his studio. Still, his artistic productivity remained unbroken and his painterly work experienced a final climax. In 1980 and 1981 he created more than one hundred new woodcuts under enormous exertion.

In May 1981 Werner Berg was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art. After a cure in Überlingen he hoped to be able to paint again during the summer - this never happened. He sent his closest friends a last greeting. On 7 September, Werner Berg was found dead in his studio. According to his wishes he was buried anonymously in the Cemetery of the Nameless in Salzburg. In his testament he made the collection housed in the gallery in Bleiburg permanently available to the public in the form of an endowment.