Wagenbrett studied at the Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts under the painter Arno Rink, but he couldn’t focus there, so he stopped going to classes. “There were always people playing music or talking and that distracted me,” he said. Rink understood and visited him at his studio. “He gave me my freedom and I am very grateful to him for that,” Wagenbrett said.
The artist said he has experienced some lean times in the past decades; on occasion, he’s been reliant on social welfare. But he sees himself as lucky to have been able to focus on his art and sell works, while many of his peers could not. It helped that he was awarded the Irene and Peter Ludwig Prize in Vienna in 1987. “Collectors bought my work in the 1990s, and they still do,” he said.
In the meantime, Wagenbrett has been focused on creating his life’s work, which is to produce a gallery of portraits that together offer a picture of the society in which he lives. Some of the portraits feature people he knows well—for instance, his son and daughter—while others are people who intrigue him because they are somehow, in his words, “typical for our time.” Yet they are never stereotypes—his subjects retain their individuality.
Wagenbrett describes his style as “verismo,” but that doesn’t mean his portraits are naturalistic. In his youth, he worked for a spell as a lighting technician at the Leipzig opera, and his paintings, too, are “always a staging,” he said. Sometimes, the staging contains a narrative about the individual portrayed; other times, there’s social commentary.