Artistically Speaking: Hilmar Gottesthal - Worldwide Artist

Last Updated on May 20, 2016 at 2:06pm | Arts & Culture

"Artistically Speaking" is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine, in cooperation with the Garrett County Arts Council, and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.
Artist and sculptor Hilmar Gottesthal was born in Carinthia, Austria on Christmas Eve, 1942. He believes that since his birth falls on this special day, it has contributed in a spiritual way to his life and artwork
During his childhood, Gottesthal experienced the havoc of World War II in very tangible ways. “I once fell into a bomb crater when playing where I shouldn’t and I didn’t really know my father until he returned home from the war. He was a school master who also painted and shared his love of the arts with his family,” stated the artist.
For as long as Gottesthal can remember, he has always been creating art. “My first serious effort was when I began preparing a portfolio to apply to the University of Vienna Academy of the Arts in 1961.” Gottesthal was accepted to the Academy where he faced rigorous art training which included anatomy classes.
It was during his studies at the Academy that he decided to pursue a life as an artist rather than a teacher like his older brother. This choice to be an artist would lead him on a journey throughout the world.
In 1966, Gottesthal graduated with a Masters Degree from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts where he won the two highest art awards, the Fuegerpreis and Meisterschulepreis. After that, he partially restored the Neo-Gothic Votive Church in Vienna, and later that same year, followed his interest in Byzantine art to Istanbul after receiving an Austrian-Turkish Cultural Exchange Grant. It was this interest that would begin his artistic journey. He would spend the next thirty years in Turkey and Greece, about fifteen years in each, where he created artwork inspired by the history, mythology and religions of the ancient cities. While in Istanbul, he had his first One Man Show being featured at the Istanbul City Gallery. He went on to more solo exhibits at the State Museum for Painting and Sculpture, the American Robert College and American Cultural Institute.
In 1968, his artwork would bring him to visit America. “Nancy Hanks, later Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, saw my work and invited me to my first American showing in Rockefeller Center, New York,” says Gottesthal.
In 1972, after having an exhibition in Athens, he moved to a small fishing village in northeastern Greece. It was while living in this rustic village that Gottesthal started trying several new art mediums, including making his own sepia from squid ink. He explains “After going out with the local fishermen and seeing the squid caught in the nets, I developed an interest in the squid ink. After I experimented, I found that I preferred the cuttlefish squid to make sepia ink and began to do drawings often using a quill pen.” He began creating black and white drawings that drew international attention. While living in Turkey and Greece, he also began sculpting in marble and olive wood. Later in the states he discovered new woods that he liked such as catalpa and butternut.
In 1978, Gottesthal’s artwork took him to yet another country, Mexico. For four months, he was the Artist in Residence for the Berkley School for the Arts. He painted archaeological sites in Oaxaca, Mexico as well as the provinces of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Yucatan. The works created at this time were exhibited in the Governor’s Palace in Oaxaca. 
During these years, Gottesthal created his own recognizable style. “People say mine is a unique style of painting which is often pointillistic, sometimes mosaic-like and many works have subtle spiritual elements. My main interest is trying to search out positive elements that are not decadent.” He painted murals in the Bell Tower Chapel of a Greek Orthodox Church near Mount Olympus and restored two Byzantine chapels working with American art students in a summer internship program on Mount Kissavos. A 35-minute television program was filmed by Greek National TV featuring Gottesthal’s life as an artist.
After moving back to Turkey in 1986, Gottesthal created his first outdoor sculpture. It was an enormous Plane Tree sculpture donated to the Hasanbaba Forestry Recreational Park entitled “To The Children of the World” as a climbing sculpture. Throughout the years, Gottesthal’s artwork was exhibited in London, Paris, Hamburg and again in the United States. Gottesthal also has his sculptures and paintings in eight museums including the Albertina Graphic Arts Collection, Vienna, Austria and the Belevedere, Austrian National Collection, also in Vienna.
Before leaving Europe, Gottesthal was awarded a medal by the Turkish Ministry of Culture for his artist contributions to the Turkish culture. In the 1990s, he made his move to the United States, becoming a US Citizen.
Over the years, inspiration for Gottesthal’s work has come from a vast array of influences however he often references music. He says “The world of music has taught me form, composition, color, and space. My ideal painting would be an equivalent to a Mozart Symphony; seemingly crystal clear, optimistic and uplifting. Without showing any trace of the invested effort, struggle and agony, the accomplished opus lives on its own, independently. Each of my works is given an Opus number.”
He is also inspired by circumstances going on around him or around the world. “I am an instrument and try to be wide open to receiving information of events around the globe.” An example of a worldly event that moved him was the 2010 earthquake in Haiti which revealed itself through a watercolor entitled “Haiti 2010”. He is also influenced by personal travels.
Gottesthal is a man of many interests when it comes to art mediums. Some of the mediums he works with include sculpting in marble and wood, doing stained glass (including 9 ft. church windows), as well as painting in watercolors and oils, creating mixed media pieces, and pen and ink. He says “each medium is my favorite at the moment of use.”
When he isn’t working on his art, Gottesthal pursues his interest in history. One of his favorite memories that combined his love of art and history was the time that archaeologists of the Bodrum Nautical Archaeological Museum asked him to record the nautical recovery of an 11th century Byzantine shipwreck at Serce Harbor. He says, “They taught me to dive and therefore to observe the actual recovery and create paintings of their findings. These works are on permanent display along with the artifacts and remains of the ship at the museum.”
In September 2015, Gottesthal’s sculptures were showcased alongside a photography exhibition by his wife and fellow artist Penny Knobel-Besa at the Gilchrist Museum in Cumberland, Maryland. The couple met through his artwork and the story almost seems like fate. As it goes, Knobel-Besa directed a fundraiser for the Cumberland Theatre, arranging a reading of fables that Gottesthal had illustrated. Gottesthal states “I was late arriving because of a flood in West Virginia where I had to float my watercolors via canoe in order to get to Cumberland!” The couple now resides near Flintstone where they built a woodland gallery called “Sanctuary Studios” which is open for visitors by appointment; call (301) 478-2735 or email
When asked what he would like people to know about his work, Gottesthal said “I believe that generally the role of an artist is that of a chronicler. Historically any culture is judged by the standard of its art, in order to be able to filter important things from fluff, there is a need of knowledge of past and present humanity, as well as awareness of the natural world that surrounds us. I hope they can see that in my work.”
Both Gottesthal and Knobel-Besa are members and participating artists in Garrett County Arts Council. You too can support arts programming throughout Garrett County by becoming a GCAC member. For more information, contact the Garrett County Arts Council at 301-334-6580 or visit