Everything comes down to contrast.
Günther Haidenthaller points out the window at a car dealership across the street. “Look at the highlights off those two jeeps, and that cold, steely kind of stainless steel quality to the light.” He also indicates the snow-covered mountains further in the distance, pointing out the blue tones in the shadows and the warmer tones — the hint of cadmium yellow — where the sun shines.
Günther is a man of contrasts. Born in Austria and raised mostly in Utah — two wildly different landscapes — both, he says, feel familiar. Günther still speaks his native German language as well as English. An artist and an adrenaline junky; Günther has summited Mount Rainier more than once, has skydived over the Great Salt Lake, and describes himself as “comfortable” riding class four white-water rapids. When it comes to Günther’s art — mostly landscapes in oil and sometimes in pen and crayon — at first glance it might be difficult to picture their creator taking life to the extreme. However, upon closer inspection one can sense the peace, serenity, and calm, comfortably merged with just the right amount of play and fun.
“I love painting outdoors because of the light,” he says. “When you’re painting on location, the light constantly changes. Every time you look up, the shadows are different. You’ve got to have a good memory, and it forces you to make accurate decisions quickly. Lay in the big shapes, get it all down, and then you can play. Then you can experiment.”
Experimentation is also a major theme in Günther’s work. When he found himself, some years ago, at an art workshop with nothing more to work with than a ballpoint pen and a box of crayons in his backpack — he took the challenge. While other attendees worked in watercolors or oils Günther experimented with the ‘tools’ he had. He couldn’t have known at that point just how much he would enjoy the results, or that he would continue to work in pen and crayon throughout his career. “I was just playing,” he says. “Like when I was a kid, coloring in coloring books.” He laughs. “I could never color inside the lines. I was always trying to do gradients and fades and trying to come up with effects.”
As a young boy in the first grade freshly immigrated to the states and still learning the language, Günther was often easily distracted in school; frequently gazing out the window, daydreaming, or drawing on his school work. According to Günther, not much has changed. “I get bored easily,” he says. “There’s always something new around that next bend in the path or on the other side of that hill. That’s what drives me.” Some of Günther’s works feature scenes from his home country of Austria — a heritage to which he feels a deep and profound connection. But more often he paints the landscapes of Utah, and he finds beauty and fascination in the ways that his current home both differs and is similar to his first one. “What I look for when I’m painting is the light,” he says. “European light, it’s hard to describe.” But Günther tries. “Like smoky light,” he says. “Light that has a tint to it like it does in the fall. That kind of light reminds me of Europe. Reminds me of home.” When asked if he primarily seeks out landscapes that remind him of home, or that are different, contrasting from that European feel, Günther’s answer is, “Both.” Utah is nothing like Austria, and yet for Günther it is still fascinating in its stark, red rock, desert beauty. “And realistically?” he says. “You go up in the Uintas and that’s what Austria is like.”
After twenty-seven years working in graphic design, and ten years as a professional soccer referee and administrator, it was Günther’s wife, Diane, who eventually gave him the push he needed to turn to painting full-time when she found his old design and illustration portfolio. “I come home from work and she grabs me and she goes, ‘why aren’t you painting?’” Günther laughs. “I mean, I always wanted to do it. And I never took the time, until she finally convinced me that I was wasting my life and I needed to paint.” Diane encouraged Günther and even bought him a set of oil paints. “The last time I had touched oils was in junior high school, so it was an absolute disaster,” he says. But eventually, “It clicked.”
He’s come a long way since then. Now, a full-time artist, Günther says that, while it’s hard to make a living doing art, it’s never been about the money for him. It’s the experience and the satisfaction of accomplishing something. “The purpose of life is to have joy,” he says. “That’s why I paint.”