Born in 1928, Alfred Hrdlicka grew up in an environment influenced by Communism. His father was a worker’s union representative, which led to his repeated incarceration during the Nazi regime. In 1942, Hrdlicka entered an apprenticeship to become a dental technician. His first sculptures can be placed in this period. In 1945, he met the Austrian writer and communist politician Ernst Fischer, who encouraged him to enter the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where Hrdlicka first studied Fine Arts from 1946-52, followed by Sculpture from 1953-57 under the tutelage of Fritz Wotruba.
Unwilling to submit to the preferred artistic styles after World War II, Hrdlicka instead drew inspiration from the German Expressionists. In his highly political works, Hrdlicka mercilessly depicted his subjects as lascivious and criminal, but also highly vulnerable. The danger of abuse of power and its consequences was a relevant theme in his oeuvre, as can be seen in the Memorial against war and fascism, which is situated in the centre of Vienna in front of the museum Albertina.
Hrdlicka achieved his international breakthrough in 1964 at the Biennale in Venice, exhibiting a crucifixion group. Despite being a convinced atheist, Christian motifs and themes did find its way into his works. The reason for this might be his origin, Catholic influence traditionally being very strong in Austria. A further example for an artwork with a Christian theme is the Danse Macabre of Plötzensee, a series of paintings hanging in an Evangelical Church in Plötzensee, Berlin.
Towards the end of his life, Hrdlicka faced several health problems. Because of a spinal disc herniation, he was forced to quit sculpting and focussed all his artistic attention on drawing. Alfred Hrdlicka died in 2009 at the age of 81.