Everyone knows them: the panoramic maps on giant display boards in the ski region, or in folded information leaflets from the tourist information offices. What most people do not know: these maps are drawn by hand. Only a few experts worldwide have mastered the techniques required to do this. One of them is Heinz Vielkind. He has already painted the whole of Tirol.
Forgive me for asking; but is your job not gradually becoming obsolete? You paint laboriously on paper with a brush. Would it not be a lot easier just to use Google Earth?
My work is still irreplaceable. I use photos on Google Earth for research purposes, but there is a fundamental problem: Google Earth maps reflect reality too precisely.
„Google Earth maps reflect reality too precisely.“
Why is that a problem?
There are two problems, actually. The maps mustn’t be too accurate, otherwise they are confusing. Besides, reality is not always so pretty. I show what my customers want to see and consider to be important. Tourism associations want to present their region from its best side.
How? Do they cheat a bit?
No, at most I will position a mountain so you see it from its most attractive side. Like a make-up artist: I emphasize the beautiful spots and paint over the problem areas. Moreover, I draw from the cartographic box of tricks: I allow the earth’s crust, on which mountains and valleys are arranged, to drop more significantly than its natural curvature towards the observer. I can therefore make the landscape fan out like an accordion and expose points that would otherwise lie hidden in deep valleys or behind high mountains.
But don’t winter sports enthusiasts need precise maps to find their way around a ski resort?
No, they want to find the downhill run or the desired lift. And painted panoramas have a big advantage over topographic maps or aerial photographs: large, mountainous areas can be displayed clearly and graphically. If I were to work strictly to scale, decisive information would be lost in the abundance of detail.
Do you not worry that a technical solution will soon be found for these problems?
No. My profession will not change much in the next 15 or 20 years. I don’t think a computer programme will be developed any time soon that transforms a photo of the landscape into a finished panorama. Each and every one of my works is a unique piece – in terms of angle, richness of detail and size, exactly tailored to the wishes of my customers.
How did you get into this profession?
I was good at drawing at school. When I was sixteen, I applied to work under Heinrich Caesar Berann, who designed one of the first ski panoramas for Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1955, where the Winter Olympics took place the following year. The professor of fine arts became my mentor, I took over his studio in the nineties.
In other words, you have been painting panoramas for over sixty years. And thirty of them were spent serving as the professor’s apprentice?
At some point we no longer knew whose work was whose. That was my so-called accolade.
How exactly do you do your job?
First, I take a very close look at the region – formerly on classic maps, now also with the help of Google Earth. I then join a pilot in the air and take hundreds of photos from different angles and directions. In my studio in the university district of Innsbruck, I first make a sketch with pencil and crayon. I perfect this and then paint the panorama with gouache colours. At the end, the pictures are enlarged. I deliver predominantly virgin landscapes. Huts, pistes and lift routes are usually only inserted later by the tourism associations. My work can then be seen as a pocket-sized map of the slopes, or printed on a large notice board in the ski area.
What kind of environment do you need to work in?
I often listen to baroque music. Bach’s cantatas help me concentrate. Until recently, my cat kept me company. Unfortunately, he died.
How many panoramas do you manage to create per year?
Depending on the size and scope, a commission can take me four to eight weeks. My work has taken me around the globe. I am currently painting the Schwanberg region in Styria, then Verona with its surrounding vineyards comes next.
„My work has taken me around the globe.“
What was your most exciting assignment?
Comparisons are always difficult and not really fair. But I liked the region around Takayama in Japan very much. Wonderful landscapes, with hardly any roads and villages. I visited the area no less than three times, flying business class every time. The people there are so friendly, yet reserved. The picture ended up being 5.40 metres wide and 80 centimetres high. On site, it was enlarged to 25 metres in width.
But Tirol comes a close second, right?
Tirol is home. And you take it for granted, which is perhaps a mistake. For me, the most beautiful part of Tirol is East Tirol – it has great expanses of untouched landscapes.
If you could say in percentage how much of Tirol you have already committed to paper, how much would it be?
One hundred percent! For individual customers in the diverse valleys, as well as a comprehensive panorama for Tirol Werbung.
How much to you get paid for one of your pieces?
I have never negotiated particularly hard. My fee for small orders is between 2,000 and 6,000 euros. Large presentations, such as the entire Dolomites as a winter sports panorama, cost up to 25,000 euros.
Artists receive professional fees. Would you describe yourself as such, or rather as a craftsman?
It is such an in-between thing. An artist paints a picture without being commissioned. My works are ordered by customers. On the other hand: Rembrandt also lived from commissioned portraits – just like I do from the panoramas.
How big is your professional guild?
There is hardly any competition in my line of work. There are probably around three or four others.
Yes. Japan has a good painter, France too. And then there’s a colleague of mine in Innsbruck, who I trained myself. I never considered her to be a rival though. Unfortunately, we have no contact. I once said something to which she took offence.
You are now 79 years old. How long do you want to continue?
Well, my hobbies – tennis, my five Alfa Romeos – all cost money. And I have just received a claim for tax arrears. Fortunately, I already receive a small pension. But seriously: I feel that I get tired faster nowadays. It’s not as much fun as it used to be.
Did you ski a lot yourself? Or go mountain hiking in summer?
Time for skiing has become scarcer over the years. In summer, my wife and I like to hike to the mountain huts. Scaling the peaks was too strenuous for me, even as a younger man. I like to take things easy, enjoy a wholesome snack somewhere along the way.