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The Art of Wagger

Born in 1958, Klaus Wagger grew up in the Austrian Tyrol, surrounded by mountains, cows and an active motorsport scene which included F1 drivers Gerhard Berger and Karl Wendlinger. Famous though these two were, according to his parents it was local ‘bad boy’ Franz Albert in his noisy exotics who made a greater impression on young Klaus. After many school and college years spent drawing cars in class he graduated with a degree in Industrial Design before earning a living as a freelance designer and technical illustrator. 

All the while he kept on drawing and painting cars, his big break coming via a competition to design a poster for the Mille Miglia 2000. His dynamic, elevated view of a Mercedes SSK in full flight took first prize. 


Wagger’s SSK became the official Mille Miglia 2000 event artwork.

A 2002 display at Retromobile in Paris was another turning point. Success there saw demand for his work spreading rapidly as he added Goodwood Revival, Festival of Speed, Techno Classica and the Pebble Beach Concours to his list of exhibition mainstays. 

Ferrari 512 battles Porsche 917
Above: Ferrari 512 battles Porsche 917 – no wonder the Retromobile crowds were swooning

Awareness of his painting spread, leading to him being commissioned to create the poster art for the 2007 Daytona 500. Unsurprisingly, the Speedway is now a regular customer. As for his favourite commission, he rates the 2006 Carabinieri calendar highest, primarily for the whole cultural experience and the drama that went with it. 

Italian police in an Alfa Romeo

Above: Italian police plus Alfa Romeo equals artistic drama

In 2015, Klaus was commissioned by Goodwood to design the poster art for the Festival of Speed, taking over from the great Peter Hearsey.

Festival of Speed posterAbove: Wagger’s bold style and vibrant brushwork – a visual festival of speed 

Wagger’s artistic focus has always been on capturing the drama, noise and speed of the car – it seems not much has changed then, he’s still imagining Franz Albert flashing past the sitting room windows of House Wagger in an ever-evolving series of exotic and noisy machines.

250 GTOAbove: The ‘Crimson Tide’, Ferrari’s 250 GTO swept the competition aside

We fired off a few questions to Klaus via email. His responses point to a man of great character and creativity.

Did you ever want to be a car designer?
Not really. Although I have a degree in Industrial Design and my body of work is very focussed on cars, my interests have always been a lot more widespread, covering pretty much everything mechanical through the ages. 

Why the switch from product design to art?
When I finished University I did not feel like ending up in an office in the city with fixed hours. So I went freelance. One thing led to another over time and I found myself doing more and more technical illustration stuff. As a distraction from the precision that type of work requires, I’d paint cars with wide brushes and big strokes. When the decision came up around 2000 as to whether I wanted to invest in 3D or move on, freedom won once more. It also seemed the better way to age with dignity rather than relying on the corporate job market. 

Are there any artists, designers or architects that inspire you?
Lots, and constantly – my life is all about observing and being inspired by what I see. In the artistic sense it’s the impressionism and expressionism of the car-specific guys like Walter Gotschke, Dexter Brown or Géo Ham that have inspired me the most. 

Do you have any other passions besides painting?
Living in the Alps it’s the outdoors and staying away from car-related things. Skiing, mountain biking, mushroom foraging, etc. Not car-related travelling. 

What is your favourite classic car / race car to paint?
I have painted most of the famous race cars over the last 20 years so now I prefer rare and obscure cars such as the Lancia D20 I painted a while ago. A big part of the fun is to discover the history of these cars, rework shapes from old grainy black and white shots and match them to existing ones. 

Do you enjoy painting modern cars or do you have a preferred era?
My preferred subjects are post-war sports cars, up to around 1970. As a designer I prefer closed bodies to open wheels. With post-1970 cars, it can be a bit like painting by numbers with all the sponsors’ logos. I have to admit though that I am developing an increasingly softer spot for old motors with exposed drivers – capturing the drivers wrestling these old monsters is an emotional experience. 

Is there a great goal in your life that you would still like to achieve?
I have mentioned it before: I wish to age with dignity.

Vaccarella in the Alfa Romeo T33

Above: Vaccarella in the Alfa Romeo T33 – a little painting Wagger calls ‘Alfa Male’

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