One of my favourite artists is Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), an Austrian artist, architect, and environmentalist whose work is colourful, playful, and unconventional – characteristics which make it perfect for any age to enjoy. Hundertwasser hated straight lines and the colour grey, but loved rain, trees, and the infinite beauty of nature.
Years ago, I happened to randomly look up “Hundertwasser Lesson Plans” on the computer and was thrilled to see that, because Hundertwasser had spent a lot of time in New Zealand, the country’s Ministry of Education had posted an art lesson plan for grade 2 students to learn about him and his whimsical style of painting. I immediately read through it and adapted it to suit my grade 6 students’ abilities as well as the limited art supplies I could find in my school’s stockroom – large cardstock paper (or bristol board), acrylic paint in primary colours, sharpies, white glue and sparkles.
Recently I adapted and introduced Hundertwasser to my kindergarten students. I started by showing them some of his work, taking particular notice of his ‘lollipop’ trees – painted with bright spirals. To encourage students to play with spiral lines, we set up a table with different colours of plasticine and a collection of white boards so that every student could roll out a plasticine ‘snake’, and then wind it up into a spiral on the whiteboard. Almost every student came to the art table that day. They seemed to be mesmerized by the action of rolling out long ropes of plasticine and then spinning them into spirals. Their creations were beautiful and all different; some were as tiny as a coin, others were large and irregularly shaped filling the whole white board, and yet others were delicately made with the finest, thinnest spirals in one continuous colour.
Our discussion about Hundertwasser spirals lead into an inquiry about where else we could find them. The students loved a book I read called, “Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature” by Joyce Sidman. All through the day, they would come up to me and show me spirals they had found, drew, or created using materials in the classroom – blocks, loose parts, and toy animals, for example. Halfway through the day, we even fit in a spiral dance, holding hands as we moved around the classroom, winding up tightly and then unwinding while the music played – that way, they could actually feel the tight hug of a spiral. When it came to Writer’s Workshop at the end of the day, almost everyone wrote about spirals. As they were explaining their work, students would tell me where they found the spiral they had drawn – on a butterfly’s face or a seashell, the bodies of snakes and worms, or elephant trunks and spider’s webs. They had clearly begun to notice!
Exploring spirals is a first step into discovering more about Hundertwasser and his amazing creations. This week, my goal is to create a forest of Hundertwasser-inspired ‘Lollipop Trees” in the hallway leading up to our classroom. The students have already painted circles using cool colours (green, yellow, blue) of paint on circles of cardstock. When they are dry, they use a Sharpie and trace a spiral on top of the paint. Using warm colours (red, orange, yellow) on sheets of cardstock, the students will then cut and paste strips for the tree trunks. When I taught the grade 6s, they painted a poster where they recreated a town inspired by Hundertwasser by painting lollipop trees, onion domes, bright colours, wavy lines, and irregular windows into a rich street scene. With the kindergarten students, the grade 6 art project is a bit too ambitious and so instead, they will be isolating key elements of his work, so that they can feel as if they are IN one of Hundertwasser’s paintings with larger-than-life lollipop trees.
Next up, we will explore onion domes…