The illustrator and artist Werner Härtl paints rural scenes with fresh cow poop as paint and gold leaf for refinement. We looked over his shoulder in the stable during material extraction and in the studio
The cow poop artist
When Werner Härtl runs out of paint for his paintings, he doesn't have to walk far: He puts on his battered straw hat, grabs a plastic canister with a funnel attached and walks into the farmer’s cowshed next door. Then he just has to wait. As soon as the tail of one of the animals goes up, it's time for him to take action: he quickly holds the funnel underneath and catches what falls out.
“Thank you, that’s a good cow!” he says. He’s happy, because a decent load is enough for at least ten paintings – Werner’s speciality is paintings with cow dung. “I mix the manure with water,” he explains. “Through this technique I bring in beautiful depth and sharpness and achieve a photo-realistic effect.”
Buyers love cows
The 43-year-old also uses modern technology: “I sketch out the motif on paper or an iPad and then project it onto the canvas on which I paint it,” says Werner. His specialities are – what else could it be – nostalgic-looking agricultural motifs, for example, old farms and the Bavarian landscape with its characteristic fields, alpine pastures and meadows.
“I have a naturalistic approach, I want to depict something figurative,” says the painter, who himself lives in a farmhousein Reichersbeuern in Tölzer Land. “Cows are particularly popular with buyers. I think that the animals awaken a longing for originality and country life in many people. Plus, they themselves produce the dung I use to paint them.”
Beginning as a comic artist and rapper
Werner considers his love of painting a family heritage: “I got my artistic streak from my mother, who always painted a lot and passionately.” Even as a child, he was enthusiastic about visual representations: “I had the feeling that I could travel and get to know the whole world with comics like Tintin. At some point I started making up my own stories and drawing comics.”
After a phase with urban art ranging from graffiti to hip-hop to rap, he finally shifted entirely to his core competence of painting and drawing. “But without my work on the farms in the area, I wouldn’t have had the idea to paint with cow shit,” he says.
Experiments with colour mixing
As a part-time farm helper, Werner lends a hand on farms: he cleans out stalls, feeds the cows, herds livestock, helps with the fruit harvest and with slaughtering. And by chance, while cleaning the stalls, he discovered how firmly cow dung sticks to all surfaces.
“This tenacity is certainly useful for painting,” he thought to himself and took a small sample home to experiment on different backgrounds. “I was fascinated by the different effects of the material,” he explains, because on closer inspection, the material contains not only plant parts but also soil, sand and insect larvae.
“I was fascinated by the different effects of the material”
Sustainability as a message
When talking about Werner’s art, there is no way around the unword with “S-H-I” – he has already got used to the corresponding puns. “For many, cow dung seems – well, let’s say unusual at first glance,” he says, grinning into his full beard.
“But on closer inspection, cow dung is one thing above all: sustainable! It can be reused. By painting with it, I want to emphasise the idea of the cycle. His unusual technique has a message: “I want to make people think and sensitise them to appreciate their environment more. One important point is our diet, and the way we use natural resources.”
Gold in cow dung
For him, his art form also includes a good dose of humour and a twinkle in his eye. So he takes faecal art to the extreme by enhancing it with gold leaf: “As an artist, I play with the effects of the two materials. Under certain lighting conditions, the gold is as brownish as the cow dung and visually disappears into it to a certain extent. Only in other light does the gleam of gold emerge.”
On one point, however, he always has to do some convincing: “No, the cow-dirt art no longer smells as soon as it has dried after a week or two,” he has to reassure customers again and again. And if you’re still sceptical, you’ll also find other works with him: Brand art on bread boards or skateboards – also guaranteed odourless.
More about Werner's art at kuhmistkunst.de (only in German)
... from Werner
Idyllic Bad Tölz
The town of Bad Tölz on the Isar with its many alleys and nooks like on Marktstraße is very beautiful. The landscape there is also great: in the upper Isar valley and in the mountains around it, you can do some excellent hiking, all the way to the Jachenau in the Upper Bavarian mountains. Lake Walchensee and Lake Tegernsee are also very close.
Reutberg monastery: Celebrate the Bavarian way
The many traditional festivals here in the area are fun, like the Bockanstich in the Reutberg monastery. Throughout the winter months, they brew a special strong beer there that you can drink from March onwards.
klosterbraeustueberl.de (only in German)
In the bog of the Attenloher Filzen
I really like the Attenloher Filzen near Bad Tölz. This is an extensive moorland area at the foot of the Upper Bavarian mountains with many rare flowers and insects. In the background you can see the Benediktenwand.
dein-toelzer-land.de (only in German)
View from the Jasberg
A hike to the Jasberg in the northern district in Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen is very beautiful. There’s a bench from which you can have a really great view of the mountains.