Our theme for February is actually a challenge: write a piece without using first person pronouns (I, me, we, etc.)
The following is the story of Heinz Vielkind as adapted from his personal website and the sources listed below, which are responsible for all quotes and original details relating to his life and work.
Heinz Vielkind is an artist. You might know his work. People turn to it when they’re lost. They carry it in their pockets. Occasionally, when they look at it, they stop and look again. From his studio in Innsbruck, Austria, Vielkind has for sixty years painted vistas that have helped many a wandering mountaineer on his way.
Vielkind is a painter of panoramas. He paints primarily mountains portraits and the occasional overhead of Mallorca. His work is placarded on peaks from Canada to Japan, but the Alps are his almost singular focus. His paintings are featured at ski resorts, on tourist flyers, and along hiking ranges. Indeed most of the world’s ski and hiking prints came from Vielkind’s hand.
Occasionally Vielkind takes a helicopter over a mountain pass and circumnavigates the peaks to get a fuller picture. Of course, these glossy representations can’t paint the whole story. These are the Alps, where on top of the steady natural threat of avalanches and rock falls, humans have made the mountains a backdrop to a chronology of tragedies: sixteenth century Protestants resettling to flee Catholic persecution, beleaguered workers digging hundreds meters into the rock to mine salt, soldiers retreating from battle to their bases, fascists brooding in wartime homes.
They can’t paint the whole story, but they don’t try to either. Vielkind fancies himself a portraitist. He sculpts the mountain’s many faces as a 19th century artist might have rendered a royal patron. His concern is showing the mountains at their best: highlight the sunny sides, bury the scars in shadows. He paints mountains untouched, decked in a sky that’s three shades of blue. Sometimes he’ll play with dimensions: enlarge the peak to make more room for the piste, shade the mountain ridge to accent the slope. After he’s completed the landscape, the lifts, paths, and cabins are added.
No doubt, these are paintings for tourists. But to the extent that these are “merely” objects of recreation, they are actual re-creations. To look at a Vielkind’s painting is to recall the brightness of standing on a cold piece of rock, the warmth of seeing the sun sparkle in flakes of frozen snow, shimmering back into the ocean blue sky, the contentment of spending a few hours at a two thousand meter remove from the rest of civilization.
It might not be long until Vielkind’s art is retired to a stack of vintage tourism posters, perhaps alongside an old coffee mug or a set of wooden skis. Cameras and satellites can produce more exact, accurate images. GPS can bring the maps to the skiers. The steady march of technology does not halt for brush strokes just as the skier in a hurry doesn’t check a map twice. But when asked if there’s a camera that could replace his work, Vielkind laughs.
“A camera that can replace me?” He asks. “Hasn’t been invented yet.” He can speak so confidently because hidden behind his winking answer is a secret, one not withheld from any but apparent to only the few who take the time to look twice: Satellites tell us what to see. Art shows us what we don’t.
Sources: “Hang zum Malen” Till Krause. Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin. 29 January 2016.
Andrew Knot (’11) lives and writes in Cologne, Germany.