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Klaus Wagger

by Mick Walsh

Admiring Klaus Wagger’s expressive style and vibrant colours of his dramatic motor racing paintings, it’s hard to imagine that he studied industrial design and stated a career as a technical illustrator. “I was working for Volkswagen, and fiddling with little details was starting to drive me mad,” recalled the Austrian artist. “I wanted to produce something where I could use all my body, and loved working with acrylic paints. The colour is fast drying , and unlike oils, there is the option to work over and over the composition.”

Realistic backgrounds don’t interest Wagger as he prefers to employ bold abstract tones that focus on the main subject. “I’m only interested in trying to capture the drama of the car, its noise and speed.” Wagger reckons that his training and experience as a technical illustrator was a bonus for his artistic style.

Like the great English artist Gordon F Crosby who was also a brilliant cutaway artist, Wagger’s technical interest results in the racing cars looking as if they really work , and accurately planted on the track. “I once had the idea of producing a cutaway action painting,” he says. “But I think that would be too much of a challenge.”

"it’s sports cars that really fascinate me...."

Although the majority of Wagger’s painting feature classic motor sport scenes, he still enjoys road cars . “As a student of design, it’s sports cars that really fascinate me. I prefer enclosed bodywork to single-seaters.” The early development of streamlined coupés is a golden era that has inspired Wagger several times. “Lost cars such as the Bugatti Aerolithe fascinate me . I enjoyed working with a restoration group who were building a replica in Germany, and tried to imagine the car at speed from just a few black and white photographs.” Another favourite 1930s coupé is the fabulous and long gone Delage V12 Grand Sport Labourdette. “The beautiful closed body was taken off before it raced , so I tried to envisage it racing at Le Mans with the winning Bugatti ‘Tank.’ I enjoy the painting challenge of this type of motor sport fantasy.”

Modern cars don’t appeal to Wagger. “I love the individuality of classic design. Today’s designs don’t have the same traits, and distinctive national characteristics have been lost. One of my all time top cars is the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR coupé built for engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. That car could only have been a German design. I have a similar passion for old Alfas, particularly the Tipo B Monoposto. And I could never tire of painting the Bugatti Type 35.”

Wagger grew up in the small town of Wörgl that’s close to the Italian border. Although there was no motoring indoctrination from his family as a child, the area is rich in motor sport heritage. “There’s some amazing roads and the famous Grossglockner hillclimb is not far away. Gerhard Berger and Karl Wendlinger are both from this area, but it was the Austrian hillclimb star called Franz Albert who made the biggest impression. He had the noisiest cars and raced a Grand Prix Repco Brabham. As a boy I was always drawing cars in my school exercise books but was the only one in class who got away with it.”

A never forgotten moment from Wagger’s childhood was when he spotted a red Ferrari parked at the local garage. “It was a quiet town and seeing the 250SWB in the early ‘60s when I was young was a special moment. I still have the image in my head and I’ve since painted this beautiful Ferrari including the famous Rob Walker team car winning at Goodwood many times.”

This year Wagger is the chosen artist for the Silverstone Classic Festival poster. But it was at the Retromobile in Paris that his career really took off. Motoring art has always been a strong feature of this premier French show and in 2004 Wagger’s bold style and vibrant brushwork were the talk of the show. Wagger has exhibited in Paris there ever since. Most of his compositions feature racing machines but

occasionally road cars inspire him including the iconic Citroen DS. “Retromobile is a great social event. One evening I was sitting chatting with a group of artists, and the challenge of making an unlikely subject look like it was going fast came up. The idea appealed and I selected the DS. To my surprise the painting sold very quickly. Someone out there must have been waiting for it.”

Attending great motoring events as an artist promoting your work can be a frustrating experience particularly at favourites like the Goodwood Revival. “Staying in the booth with all the those fantastic racing sounds across the circuit is really tantalizing. I plan to go as a visitor this year to really enjoy this great event.”