A Try at Art and Life
David Holzinger’s Metamorphosis
What has art to do with “life out there”? Can art teach us anything? Can it stimulate thought? Or even guide us? My very profession as an art historian forces me to answer these questions with “all of these” and “yes”. Metamorphose– Vom Zellhaufen bis in die Kiste(“Metamorphosis – From the Cell Cluster to the Box [coffin]”) by David Holzinger parries these questions with the weapons of art.
Metamorphosis is a four-part work: it consists of a white canvas, its bottom right corner was cut open, revealing a surface kept in a delicate rose colour, which is overrun with fragile circles and represents a kind of cell cluster. A further canvas in black recalls a palimpsest and features several dark, horizontal layers over a pink underground, which shows through slightly in the top third. Placed centrally between the two canvases is a grey-framed mirror. The canvases and the mirror are in the same pillar format and are not installed on the wall; far more, they lean on the latter, which gives them a slightly improvised character, evokes human physical dimensions and sets up a literal face-to-face encounter with art. An urn is placed at the side of these three “bodies”. As described by Holzinger in the accompanying artist’s book, it contains the ashes of three sister objects, executed mirror inverted, and led to “death” by “cremation”.
While the white and the black canvas fit smoothly into David Holzinger’s previous painting oeuvre, the centrally placed mirror and the urn are exceptions and have remained monoliths to the present day. Like two tools, which sooner or later actuate points of contact in every human life, the mirror and the urn complete the piece, yet make it appear more conceptual than Holzinger’s remaining work actually is. Metamorphosisbreaks down the life cycle into two pictures and two objects, which because of their very simplicity raise a universal claim.
The flow of time – which abstract painting in its non-representation had always claimed to invalidate – becomes the direct component of the work. On the white canvas the mystery of conception takes place “under the skin” and sees the light of day, so to speak, by means of a vertical and a horizontal cut. Therefore, while something comes into view on the bright canvas, the black canvas – upon which David Holzinger stacked layers of canvas and detached them again – keeps its secret covered up. The traces of this procedure are clearly visible and divide up the picture rectangle into several horizontal sections, similar to the growth rings of a tree. When a slender stripe of pink shimmers through the layers it seems as if the canvas body is glowing from within; a noble, restrained yet also profoundly sad image, evoking associations of finality and death that is inscribed into everyone’s life and here stands for the future.
The mirror represents the time level of the here and now. The painter Gerhard Richter describes the mirror as “...the sole image that always looks different. And perhaps also an indication that every image is a mirror.”1 In the presence of the mirror, or so it seems, we don’t need painting: painting embodies past and future, but the present, in the form of the mirror, takes the stage as a “perfect” picture, kept in constant movement and therefore also permanently updatable. Ultimately, the urn takes effect as a summing up, a condensation of what has gone before, and to a certain extent also as time-transcending element.
Art production and observation are always resourced by the image reservoir we all bear within ourselves and which consists of what we have already seen. David Holzinger is a self-taught artist, but is profoundly interested in the history and development of twentieth- and twenty-first-century painting. So it’s not surprising that the white canvas for instance shows an affinity to Gerhard Richter’s painting umgeschlagenes Blatt (Turned page) from 1965. For almost sixty years in the meantime, Gerhard Richter has been without parallel among his fellows in posing the question as to what a picture is and can achieve. But Richter’s Turned page is a trompe l’oeil – Richter has created a perfect optical illusion by paintingthe folded-over corner of a paper pad – whereas David Holzinger intervenes directly on the canvas by cutting it open and revealing what is below. The black canvas in contrast reminds us strongly of Ad Reinhardt’s black pictures and of “painting at the end of painting” (Johannes Meinhardt). Reinhardt wanted to ban everything gestural, expressionist and subjective from art and attain a purity of abstraction. In contrast to Reinhard’s flatness, we are confronted in Metamorphosis with a surface that is rampant with organic structures, which in turn borrows from the material-oriented painting of, for instance, a Hans Bischoffhausen. While the bright canvas now suggests the evolution of a cellular structure and hence the conception of life, the dark canvas literally withdraws from life, dissolves, disintegrates, reveals only vestiges of what once was.
“Memento mori - Remember thou art mortal!” – this seems to be what David Holzinger’s work is whispering to us. And going on from here: life passes by in the here and now, is doing so in this very moment – which renders obsolete the question posed at the start about how far art can function as a guide for real life.