In our painting we recognize materials as the real object of our works. It is a question of presenting material, matter itself. For us, manufactured paint exists no more, we reject it as something aesthetic and degenerate. Our guiding principle is: matter=paint.–Otto Muehl
Otto Muehl was part of a group called the Viennese Actionists: a performance-based movement with strong ties to Fluxus. This group of Austrian artists coalesced in the early 1960s and quickly became an important force in the international avant-garde. Inspired by the ideas of the New York School painters active in the 1950s, the Actionists became one of the most gestural, body-oriented, sexually provocative, and psychologically inflammatory artistic groups ever developed. In their works, the body became a surface and a field for political expression. Their actions were a violent critique of the hegemonies of the state and church, and placed the artists in serious conflict with conservative Austrian society.
Muehl’s controversial work presents an aesthetic of destruction and broken barriers and taboos. His philosophy could be summed up in this quote: “I find cleanness extremely suspicious, it only camouflages dirt and impotence.” He gave up easel painting in 1961 and strove for a process that offered broader expressive possibilities. He started by spreading the paintings on the floor, then set them on fire and proceeded to attack and destroy the picture surface by slitting the canvas, demolishing the frames, and integrating various objects–such as paper, rags, stockings, nails, and cigarettes–into the paint. This work was completed the year that Muehl abandoned the canvas entirely and turned toward performance “actions.”