Pierre Wittmann: Detailed biography
Born in Geneva on 7th July 1943, of an artist mother and writer father, Pierre Wittmann studied architecture at the University of Geneva, graduating in 1970. In 1971 he created Cobama, a graphic arts and publishing company, which he directed until 1975. Leaving Geneva in 1976, he settled in France, at Musiège in Haute-Savoie. His life was focussed mainly on painting, though he also practiced architecture, sculpture and design. During this time Pierre took several study trips to the United States and South America. In 1981 he settled in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He discovered French Polynesia in 1983 and decided a few months later to go and live in Tahiti. To further the studies and practice of Buddhism that he had discovered there, Pierre decided in 1988 to move to Thailand. At first he lived in Bangkok, then from 1992 to 1997 in Hua Hin on the shores of the Gulf of Siam. In 1997 Pierre moved to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Since leaving Europe in 1981, Pierre has however spent almost every summer in France, first in Musiège, and from 2007 to 2019 in Provence, in Cabrières d'Aigues south of the Luberon. In 2019, he got rid of all the belongings he had in France and sold his house in Cabrières d'Aigues.
I am born in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7th July 1943. My mother is a painter, and my father a writer. My sister Isabelle is born in 1945. My childhood is happy. I like school and, without much work, am at the top of my class. I attend Calvin College for secondary studies and graduate in 1962.
I spend my free time on the lake and in the mountains. Winters are for skiing and skating, and summers for sailing and mountain hikes. Christmas and Easter holidays are devoted to skiing in Verbier. In the summer we often go to Crans-sur-Sierre. In the 1950s we go to Spain to the beaches, little frequented by tourists in those days. We visit France, Paris and the castles of the Loire, the Dordogne, and Provence. We visit the Netherlands. I spend a summer in Germany and another in England to improve my German and English languages. Along with my school studies, I am also involved in theatre with my father, and painting with my mother. I play the recorder, and then the clarinet. I like building games like Mecano and constructing things myself.
In the summer of 1962 I complete my four months of compulsory military service. In the autumn I begin to study physics at the University of Geneva, but I find these studies too dry and change the following year to the School of Architecture, which is at that time affiliated to the Beaux-Arts School in Paris. Geneva is a very international city and the social and cultural life there is intense. My years of study are rich in discoveries, encounters, travels, nightlife, friendships and romantic relationships. During this period I am very social, and spend my evenings in restaurants and brasseries putting the world to rights. On winter weekends I go skiing with friends, and in the summer sail on the lake and take part in regattas.
I travel widely: London, Paris, the French Riviera, Italy, Spain, Morocco. I am passionate about art, architecture and paintings visiting countless exhibitions. In 1964 I take part in a study trip to Mexico, organised by the Beaux-Arts of Paris. In 1970 I present my architectural diploma with Jean-Marie Bondallaz, a prefabricated construction project for industrial buildings. At this time we are in the first economic crisis of the post-war period, construction projects are suspended in Switzerland and architects unemployed. In the autumn I leave by car with a friend for a long journey that will take us to the Lebanon.
On my return, by chance I get involved in graphic arts with Albert Feurer, a painter friend. In 1971 we create Cobama, a composition and word processing company for offset printing. Typesetting on magnetic tape is a new technology that uses early computers, and is replacing lead typesetting. The technique is in its infancy, but quickly has a lot of success. At that time the computer can only produce raw texts, so to complete the typesetting department, we create a graphic design and advertising department. Over the years, we add a publishing house and a printing house. For five years I work with all aspects of graphic arts, but I realise that the role of business manager is not my vocation and I sell my shares of the company in 1975.
I leave Geneva in 1976 to settle in France in Musiège, a small village in Haute-Savoie located thirty kilometres from Geneva and twenty from Annecy. In 1971, I had bought a farm in this village with Albert and his wife Geneviève; we spent weekends and summer holidays there and had started restoration work. In 1975, I buy out my friends' share and finish restoring the house so that I can live there. I apply for a residence permit in France as a painter. I will never again live in Switzerland. The Swiss are great travellers, perhaps because they have a small country without access to the sea. Switzerland has the highest percentage of citizens who live abroad, about ten per cent, as opposed to the world average of three per cent and two and a half per cent in France.
In autumn 1976, surfeited with gardening and restoration, I begin to paint. At first figurative subjects of the Savoie countryside and golf landscapes. It’s a new passion and I’m working intensely. I begin to exhibit in the Rhône-Alpes region and in Switzerland in 1978. During this period I make many study trips, first to Europe, then to the United States and South America. What I see gives me new inspiration. I also participate in sculpture and design competitions, and reconnect with architecture. I collaborate on various projects in Switzerland and France, mainly restorations, with a couple of architects from Geneva.
In 1976 I begin to play golf regularly, in Annecy and then Aix-les-Bains. It is another passion. I take part in competitions on Sundays, and friendly games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I make rapid progress. As the Aix-les-Bains golf club is open all year round, I ski less often with my friends from Geneva. I find new friends in golf, and even though I often go to Geneva, my social life becomes more French than Swiss. I am happy to detach myself from my Swiss past. My mother tragically dies in a car accident in 1978 and I loose my father the following year. My inheritance releases me from the worry of income from my activities, but however, it will remain a recurring concern in my life.
Between 1978 and 1981 I visited the United States many times. I discovered American contemporary art, which was flourishing at the time, in particular painting and architecture. Though I stayed mainly in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, I visited the museums and the masterpieces of modern architecture of many large American cities: Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Las Vegas. At the time I was fascinated by American life and culture.
In the autumn of 1981 a friend tells me about Scottsdale, Arizona. It is one of the main artistic centres of the United States, she tells me, located in the middle of the desert. I am happy to leave the long winters in my poorly insulated and heated house in Musiège, and in 1981 I rent a villa in Paradise Valley, near Scottsdale Arizona. I am immediately seduced by the light, the dry heat, the great cloudless skies and the landscapes of the desert, the rocks, canyons, the arid expanses where the tall saguaro cacti stand like candlesticks above thin short translucent shrubs.
During my stay in Arizona I paint extensively, large canvases, as is the fashion in this country. I exhibit several times, but without much success. I also practice architecture and monumental sculpture projects in association with my architect friends from Geneva. To obtain a residence and work permit in the United States, we created a branch there of the architecture office in Geneva. But the results are not great, and I find once again that business is not my forte. On the other hand, I enjoy creating, and design furniture and lamps, take part in sculpture competitions, and take photographs.
In 1982, during a stay in France, I meet Brenda, an English poet and writer. She follows me to Arizona, and it is with her that I create my first book, Rocks. She writes the texts and I create a series of paintings of the rocks, the canyons and geological formations of Arizona. But we separate before we publish our book. It is at this time that I start to read in English and buy my first books on spirituality.
I spend a holiday with Brenda in French Polynesia in December 1983. We are charmed by life in these islands and decide to go and live in Tahiti. I realise that American life is not the paradise I once hoped for, and I sense that the purpose of our existence on this planet must not be limited to a frantic race after money, material goods, and the pleasures of the senses. On 29th February, 1984, I stop drinking alcohol and never start again.
Tahiti is a happy, bright and creative time in my life. At the same time, it is a kind of exile, an escape, from the West where I lived for the first forty years of my life. On this island lost in the middle of the Pacific, the antipodes of Europe, I feel very uprooted, like in another world. This is exactly what I am looking for.
In Papeete spiritual centres and movements flourish, and I meet my first master, Madame Poincon. I begin to practice yoga and Zen meditation with her, and devour all the books I can find on spirituality: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism. I discover the teaching of Gurdjieff and of many Western sages.
I begin to write my Journal, my faithful confidant for more than thirty-five years. Externally I am still a painter, but internally I am filled with books and writing.
In 1984 I decide to study Chinese and fall in love with Chinese culture. It is Chinese writing that attracts me, and leads me to Seoul in 1985 to study Chinese calligraphy. The following year I stay in Taipei, continuing my studies in calligraphy, and also learn Chinese painting. I visit Thailand and Malaysia and fall in love with Asia.
Between these first sojourns in Asia, Tahitian life suits me very well. I paint, spend time with good friends and explore the still wild islands of Polynesia. I play golf regularly, windsurf, trek mountains on foot or on horseback. In the evenings I often go to the beach where I write my Journal, swim in the lagoon, and watch the sunset over Moorea.
During this time my painting evolves, influenced by my travels in Asia, calligraphy and Chinese painting, and by my spiritual studies. Figurative changes to symbolic, which prefigures abstract. I hold successful exhibitions every year. It is a prosperous period for Tahitian painters.
Following the economic recession, in 1987 the paradisiacal atmosphere of Tahiti begins to change. On October 23 a riot ravages Papeete, demonstrators smashing windows, looting stores and more than thirty buildings are set on fire. The rumour in Tahiti is that France will abandon Polynesia. Many traders and investors are liquidating their businesses and moving to Australia and New Zealand.
I begin to feel isolated and far from the world in Tahiti. On the spiritual and cultural level I feel like I have explored and learned all that I can in Polynesia. I am attracted to Asia and want to meet the Buddhist masters that I discover in my readings, I dream to go and live in monasteries. But I don’t want to leave Tahiti on a whim. In December 1987 I leave for a long journey that takes me to Thailand, Burma, Nepal and India. In Sarnath, I attend the teachings of the Dalai Lama. I then encounter Theravada Buddhism at Suan Mokkh, a monastery in the forest in southern Thailand where I spend several months. My decision is made: I leave Tahiti in August 1988 and settle in Bangkok in December. On the way I visit India again and take a one month Tibetan retreat at the monastery of Kopan, in Nepal.
I spend three years in Bangkok, a turbulent period in this capital which is in full transformation, with hundreds of skyscrapers and elevated highways replacing gardens, small houses and canals. The traffic jams are a school of patience. To escape the noise and pollution of Bangkok I often go on retreat to the monasteries of the South.
The reason I choose Bangkok is my desire to learn Thai. During my first year, I go to school every afternoon, but without much success. In the end, I give up. Thirty years later, despite some other attempts, my Thai language skills are still very rudimentary.
After the quiet years of Tahiti, I am happy to immerse myself in the active life of a large capital city. I am out and about, visiting exhibitions, meeting new friends, welcoming visitors, discovering Bangkok and Thailand.
As soon as I arrive in Bangkok, I resume painting. My paintings, inspired by the teachings of Buddhism, become more abstract. I no longer exhibit, but start using my paintings to illustrate books. The first of these are the books of Ajahn Buddhadasa. Then A Wisdom Gift, a book of poems published with Erika Dias, a poet from Sri Lanka.
My spiritual life is very intense. As well as retreats in monasteries, I take care of monks and Dharma friends when they come to Bangkok. I discover the temples of Bangkok and the monasteries of the provinces, and attend the teachings of the masters who are passing through Bangkok. I am a regular attendant at the weekly meetings of a Dharma group.
In February 1990, I meet Ayya Khema, a German nun from the Theravada tradition. She becomes my main teacher and guides me in Dharma and meditation until her death in 1997. My book Le parfum de l’éveil (The Perfume of Awakening) describes this meeting and my first retreat with her in Australia.
In May, I leave for a journey back to my past. I visit Tahiti, California, Arizona, Florida, New York, and Paris. In France, I connect once more with Tibetan Buddhism, discovered a few years earlier in Tahiti and then in Nepal. During a seminar in Karma Ling, in Savoie, I meet Ariella, a charming young woman passionate about Tibetan Buddhism. She becomes my companion and my partner on the spiritual path. Shortly after I discover Dzogchen, the supreme doctrine taught by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, during a month long retreat in Prapoutel, near Grenoble, with Sogyal Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. This is the first of a long series of Dzogchen retreats.
In the autumn I join Ariella and her master Lama Gangchen in Malaysia and Indonesia. At the beginning of 1991 I take a Dzogchen retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche and a two month retreat with Ayya Khema in Australia. In April, Ariella comes to join me in Bangkok. Shortly after, we go to Tibet. This will be the beginning of a long series of journeys on the spiritual path, of pilgrimages, retreats, teachings, meetings with masters and Dharma friends.
Hua Hin: 1992-1997
In January 1992 I move with Ariella to Hua Hin, a seaside resort located on the Gulf of Siam, two hundred kilometres from Bangkok. It is a small town, quiet on weekdays and crowded on weekends with people from Bangkok. There is a large market, fish restaurants by the sea, and an eight kilometre beach where we walk every evening at sunset.
We continue to travel, to Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the United States, China, and India, including trips within Thailand and Europe. We take many retreats; Theravada with Ayya Khema and Ajahn Sumedho, and in monasteries in southern Thailand; Dzogchen with Sogyal Rinpoche and Namkhai Norbu; Zen with Harada Sekkei Roshi; Chan with Master Sheng Yen.
When in Hua Hin, we go regularly to Bangkok, where I teach Buddhism and meditation to a French-speaking group, and where we always participate in the Dharma group.
As Ariella often travels with her master, I regularly find periods of calm and solitude where I can get back to painting and writing. However, during this time I paint much less, and am not so regular with writing my Journal. I mostly write Dharma Notes. In August 1992 I buy my first computer.
I am illustrating a second book of poems by Erika Dias, Oneness in Duality, and we are printing a new edition of A Wisdom Gift. The French translation is published by a French publisher. I resume the translation of the book by Ayya Khema begun in Australia in 1991, Être une île (Being an Island unto Yourself). It is published by the same publisher.
I also translate several works of Tibetan Buddhism. These translations, commissioned by venerable lamas, will never be published. I try to create a network of French Dharma translators, without much success. At that time I begin to understand about the functioning of the book market, the commercial interests of the publishing world, and the control of the distribution of books by large companies. I understand that it is not enough to write or translate books for them to be published, and that if they are published, they often no longer bear much resemblance to the manuscripts given to the publisher.
Chiang Mai: 1997-2003
In December 1996, after a first separation, Ariella leaves for Nepal and I move to the Tao Garden, a new Taoist centre created by Mantak Chia near Chiang Mai. Soon after I decide to buy a house at the centre. However, it must be built. I am passionate about this new architectural project and stay a year at the Tao Garden. I participate in other architectural projects within the Tao Garden and build two fountains close beside the swimming pool. I begin to seriously study the Yi Jing (I Ching) and the enneagram in 1987, along with Taoist teachings and practices. I return regularly to Hua Hin, where I have kept the house, and make frequent trips to Bangkok to give courses on Buddhism and teach Reiki, which I studied in California in the summer of 1996.
The building of my house at Tao Garden is gradually becoming a nightmare. At the end of my stay there, I often spend my evenings in Chiang Mai. During this difficult time, I find great support from a Raja Yoga group, and from Dr Rungrat, who runs a traditional Chinese medicine clinic with her husband. When the house is almost finished, in January 1998, I put it up for sale and leave the Tao Garden. I move into an apartment in Chiang Mai and bring my furniture and belongings from Hua Hin. The Tao Garden ordeal has exhausted me, but I am now free to start a new life.
In the following years, I study tarot, astrology, feng shui and tai chi. I participate in personal development, qi gong, enneagram and sacred geometry seminars. I receive training as a facilitator and a presenter, in many healing therapies, and in Angelic Healing. I am starting to regularly give Reiki classes and healing, and therapy sessions.
I am also interested in New Age philosophies and practices, especially light work. I participate in gatherings of lightworkers and prophets, in channeling and healing sessions, and in all kinds of ceremonies and mystical-spiritual activities. In this environment I meet new friends, in Chiang Mai, in France and on the internet.
I paint abstract paintings, inspired by light. These will give birth to the Healing Paintings. In 1999 I have an exhibition in Zurich, the first for more than ten years. I develop the concepts of extra-sensory art and total art, and create light installations.
In 1998 I begin to study the piano and again start to play golf. At the beginning of 1999 I buy a new computer equipped with the internet and email, and in April I publish the first version of my Wisdomlight website. In the following years I discover Laos and Cambodia. I make two pilgrimages to Tibet, and visit the United States and Quebec to take courses.
I continue to write my Journal regularly, and in 2002 I write and publish my first book: Le guide du bonheur (A Guide to Happiness). The following year I translate it and publish it in English. Both books are selling well in Thailand. But the difficulties in distributing and selling them in the West, and in particular in France, discourage me in my new role as author and publisher. However, in France I find a company who will distribute it for a few years, and I undertake a conference tour on Happiness which allows me to sell part of my stock. As a result of these commercial difficulties, the other book projects under way end up in a drawer.
Chiang Mai and Cabrières d'Aigues: 2003-2019
Around the year 2003, several events will give a new direction to my life. These are the sale of the house of Musiège, a meeting with Éric Baret and with Human Design, the loss of an eye, and the need for writing which begins to take precedence over that of painting.
In July 2002, I put the house in Musiège up for sale. My idea at that time is to go live with Ariella in Italy. After our separation, she settled in the Centre of Lama Gangchen, above Lake Maggiore. We had stayed in contact and we saw each other regularly from 2001. The house did not sell right away, but finally in August 2004 I leave Musiège and put my belongings in storage. In the meantime, the idea of going to live in Italy does not succeed, and I develop a new idea, of finding, or creating, a community. After a lot of research and effort, this project also fails, to show me, no doubt, that I am a loner. I decide to look for a house near Montpellier in the summer of 2006. I visit forty-seven houses, a new failure. In September, by chance I find a house in Cabrières d'Aigues, in the Luberon, and I buy it immediately. From 2007 to 2019 I spend every summer there, from May to September.
In 2002, I meet Éric Baret, a French master of Tantric Shaivism from Kashmir. I find in this tradition the essence of Zen and Dzogchen, which I had studied and practiced intensely between 1984 and 1997. From 1997 I went through a New Age period. I more or less left Buddhism and submerged myself in a whole series of courses and trainings, more in the fields of personal development and therapy than spirituality. With Éric Baret, I find a direct spiritual path, stripped of rituals and religiosity. I now lean more towards Hinduism than Buddhism. I meet Amma in Kerala in 2004. I read the books of Jean Klein, the master of Éric Baret, and those of Daniel Odier. In 2012, on the internet, I meet Mooji, a master of Advaita Vedanta. The videos of his satsangs become a daily source of inspiration.
I discover Human Design in 2004 and I am immediately seduced by this system. There I find the Yi Jing and astrology. I decide to start studying it. I research the books, publications and recordings available on the market. Then I explore the internet and meet Zeno and Richard Rudd. I take a correspondence course with Zeno, and am fascinated from the start by Richard Rudd's research on Gene Keys and the Spectrum of Consciousness. I then study the Golden Path and the Venus Sequence by Richard Rudd, as well as Integral Human Design by the Austrian Werner Pitzal. It is mainly by studying by myself that I discover the world of Human Design. I try to make a synthesis of the different approaches, drawing the essence of each of them; and I approach the reading of themes with a vision that is more intuitive than dogmatic.
I lose an eye in 2003. This health accident forces me to slow down my frenetic pace. As I can no longer drive long journeys, I stay quietly at home and go about my little activities. I wait for my friends to come see me rather than running all over the roads or the world to visit them. We meet more and more often on Skype. I stop traveling, apart from my annual trips back and forth between Thailand and Provence.
In my studies, I don't limit myself to Human Design. I read a lot and continue to take courses: olfactotherapy, Yi Jing, non-violent communication, family constellations, psycho-genealogy, chromotherapy, PMT, and Craniosacral therapy. As I travel less, I participate in seminars on the internet, and I follow the teachings of my masters on video on YouTube. Besides the Human Design sessions, I still give Reiki classes, and PMT and Yi Jing sessions, but often remotely on Skype.
After the publication of Le guide du bonheur and its English translation in 2002 and 2003, writing begins to take a greater place in my life, and to compete with painting. I no longer content myself with writing my Journal. In the years that follow, I begin to type the seventy-five handwritten notebooks of the Journal, with the idea of depositing it with the APA (French Association for Autobiography). I start new book projects. I would like to publish one book per year. In 2009, I publish an illustrated book on my painting, Peinture Peintures, and Le parfum de l'éveil, an excerpt from my Journal on a meditation retreat in Australia with Ayya Khema, and I deposit the first episode of my Journal with the APA. In 2010, I publish Le jardin de la libération, a second extract from my Journal, from the year 1988, when I left Tahiti to settle in Bangkok. In 2011, I publish Le silence des couleurs, a collection of poems, and in 2014 my first novel Marlène ou le jeu de la vie, which I had started writing in 2007. Since 2013, I regularly write Reflections, short texts that replace the Dharma Notes and have become, now that I no longer travel and go out very little, a kind of inner diary.
Between 2014 and 2016, I finish editing the Journal and deposit 22 episodes with the APA. The third stage of my Journal, after writing and correcting it, will be to extract its quintessence. I begin to select short excerpts from the Journal, as well as Dharma Notes and Reflections, which I call Regards (Glimpses), of my life, and of life. There are already more than 500. I post them on my blog created in 2016 and publish two collections, Regarder la vie (Watching Life) 1 and 2, in 2018 and 2019. I feel that the essence of the Journal is the essence of my life, and perhaps also my life's work. I plan to dedicate the end of my life to refining and compiling my most enlightened glimpses, so that others will be inspired to take new glimpses at life too.
After the large series of Healing Paintings, painted between 2000 and 2005 (more than 200 paintings and 100 healing cards), between 2006 and 2009 I paint the Tantric Paintings and the Silence, Mouvance and Mutation series, and in 2009, a series of 70 small paintings, Poèmes de couleurs (Colour Poems). I paint less since 2010, but I hang the many paintings I have in various places, yoga and music schools, therapy offices, travel agencies, reception offices and similar venues. Since 2007 I take part in exhibitions in Provence every summer. For my last two major exhibitions at the Presbytery of Ansouis, in 2014 and 2016, I paint a series of 60 paintings called Plénitude, and in September 2019, just before leaving France, I finish a dozen of them that had remained unfinished. I consider that these Plénitude paintings are, and perhaps will remain, the ultimate message of my painting.
Between 2013 and 2019, I continue to give Human Design sessions and study intensively the Gene Keys and the Golden Path of Richard Rudd. I also continue to teach Reiki, but have stopped traveling to give workshops and learn new techniques. On a spiritual level, I always read Éric Baret and other masters of Kashmir Shaivism such as Daniel Odier and Jean Bouchart d'Orval. I have been interested for several years in non-duality (Advaita Vedanta), and I read Jean Klein, Poonjaji and Nisargadatta Maharaj, am passionate about the video teachings of Mooji, Bentinho Massaro and Armelle Six, and regularly attend, in Provence, the Wednesday evening sessions of the monk Gojo. But I am gradually moving away from non-duality and returning to Buddhism. I sometimes take part in meditation sessions at the Theravada centre Le Refuge, near Aix-en-Provence, where I meet Ajahn Thanissaro, a Buddhist monk from this tradition. Since then, I read one or two of the short teachings he gives in his monastery in California every day, and in 2019, I do a ten-day meditation retreat with him in the monastery of Ségriès in Provence. During these years I also discover Almaas, the physicist Nassim Haramein, Swami Vishwananda and Gabriel Lesquoy, who leads me in 2017 in a 3-week pranic food workshop, where I learn to nourish myself from light, or prana, rather than physical food.
In 2014, I begin to feel that the maintenance of my house in Cabrières d'Aigues is becoming too much physically. In 2015, I start sorting through my belongings, those that I had accumulated over more than 40 years. In 2018, I begin seriously to dissolve them, and during the summer of 2019 I part with all the material possessions I have in France, including more than 600 paintings that I sell to a dealer, and hundreds of books. And I sell the house where I had spent all my summers since 2007. When I return to Chiang Mai at the end of September, I decide, well before the Covid-19 epidemic, not to return to Europe in 2020. I still have a hundred paintings and a few hundred books in Chiang Mai, but there too I have already begun a process of dissolution. Soon all that will remain are my virtual possessions, the memory in my computer, which contains all my writings, the photos of my paintings, and tens of thousands of other files. I will probably leave that to death to dissolve.