Torn, cut, burned.
David Holzinger’s Interventions on the Canvas Body


“I see my works not really as oil on canvas, but far more as oil on a body. By cutting/tearing, scratching and stacking the separate layers on top of one another it feels more as if they are objects…” (David Holzinger)

The work produced since 2010 of the Carinthian artist David Holzinger can be described as an abstract game of question and answer. The artist, constantly seeking the new, seems desirous of knowing: what form can an abstract picture take today? Holzinger doesn’t simply rely on paint application, but also the practices of tearing, cutting, scratching and burning, thus techniques that one would commonly associate with latently aggressive undertones targeting the “canvas body”, yet which lead to aesthetically consummate compositions.

David Holzinger began to draw in 2001 – every day after school. In 2007 he sold a collage to his professor of drawing at the BORG (secondary school). Since 2010 there has been a perceptibly stringent development in his work. At the same time, David Holzinger’s palette has been constantly increasing in range. He states for the record that he has “always worked in all colours.” In fact, his very first works display extremely intense colours and seem inspired by street and urban art; frequently we might also catch sight here of letters or collaged cuttings from magazines and newspapers. Starting in 2015, Holzinger has organised his artistic work in major cycles and, under the highly auspicious title of “Befreiung” (Liberation), attained a visual imagery dominated by runnels, smeared paint and graphic set pieces. The cycle “Entstörung” (“descrambling”) started in late 2015 manifests the first interventions on the picture substrate to transcend brush and paint: traces of burning and work with ash on the surface are typical. While these two cycles feature an expressionistic use of colour, the cycle “Discretio” heads in a completely different, calmer direction. Keeping to bright tones, often monochrome, here, in late 2016, Holzinger first applies his practices – which are omnipresent at the moment  – of scratching, scraping and tearing. The earliest works illustrated in this publication also stem from this period. Cutting through – as David Holzinger sums up his interventions on the canvas body – seems for him to mean a literal break-through; a way – his way – of treating the canvas that he has retained ever since in the most diverse configurations and probably doesn’t intend to abandon so quickly.

The materials David Holzinger uses for his artistic work are manifold. He paints in acrylic, lacquer and most recently in oil as well; the support might be canvas, but just as easily handmade paper. Holzinger’s seemingly destructive techniques spin the central connecting thread.

The handmade paper collaged with lacquer shows indexical traces of this destruction and reveals the colour surfaces underneath. The artist develops an ingenious sculptural system on canvas. Here, too, the canvas is structured into horizontal or vertical layers and repeatedly reveals deeper-lying paint applications. Chance seems to hold sway in the scratched paper works; the final pictorial result cannot be influenced as an ultimate solution, and the scratched traces seek entry into a picture that seems desirous of safeguarding its secret from the observer. Meanwhile, things are exactly the opposite in the case of the works on canvas: the diverse layers open up well-nigh eagerly in order to entrust their “story” to the observer. Each work by David Holzinger shows – in the best sense of the word – an insight into the action of creative work. The time of creation and process are made transparent. We not only have a final work in front of us, but we are also witness to the path trodden by the artist in order to attain it.

The diversity of David Holzinger’s materials finds a continuation in his palette, too: while the finely sprayed, fragile works from 2016 still manifest a bright, monochrome colouring, in 2017 we see various red and pink tones, also basic colours of yellow and blue emerging, which also appear in the scratchings on paper. In his most recent works of 2018 David Holzinger increasingly uses black, which is frequently contrasted with robust pink and ochre tones. When perusing through the illustrations in this book, one painting is particularly eye-catching: the blue large-format picture Untitled, 2018. It is a majestic, solemn canvas upon which a heraldic blue scintillates chatoyant in all shades, interpolated by one slender and one broader line, the ground showing golden nuances (actually the rear side of primed natural canvas). Here, too, David Holzinger employs his practice of tearing the canvas; but nothing is left to chance – as for instance in the previous scratchings. A deliberate and masterly process breaks fresh ground, spreads a becalming serenity over everything – it is probably not without reason that this picture dates shortly before the birth of David Holzinger’s son Theo in early summer 2018.

If we wish to situate David Holzinter’s work within a larger context of art history, it is obvious that he has been intensively preoccupied with the history of painting; the work he has produced up to now well-nigh teems with cross references to numerous twentieth-century artists. While Lucio Fontana perforated his canvases in the late 1940s already, then started to open them up in 1958 with his famous Tagli (Cuts), Holzinger’s cuts and rips applied to the canvas body are less openings of the support in the direction of the surrounding space than far more masquerades of the picture itself. The structural layers he produces suggest possibilities, identities that the picture might be capable of assuming. Like rock strata, David Holzinger stacks canvas upon canvas, only to slit them, detach them and re-attach them. To do so, he works mainly with the scalpel, but torn and burnt edges frequently crop up. The material-oriented painting of the Carinthian artist Hans Bischoffshausen is a clear point of reference for David Holzinger. Holzinger speaks less about canvases than about “bodies” – “Körper”; in actual fact, rather than stretcher frames, he often works with wooden boxes, which he covers with canvas. The combination of body and cutting has a certain affinity to the works of Günter Brus, who, like Holzinger, often wielded the scalpel for his Körperanalysen (Body Analyses). In their tactile quality David Holzinger’s canvases in fact often evoke the surfaces of skin: cut to shape, torn and burned, they tell of a process, a change, a story – and occasionally remind us of wounds that are opened and closed.

The importance of touch – an approach which can surely be called “handicraft-related” – and the affinity to material are not only typical of David Holzinger’s work but in recent years can be encountered everywhere in contemporary art. While countless images in this digital age envelop us like a swarm of bees, it does not come as a surprise that a diametrically opposed development in contemporary art is emerging. David Holzinger’s canvas bodies stand not only for a three-dimensional, sculptural approach, but also evince a very personal working process.

Each work is endowed with a kind of physique. The pictorial composition, the application and stacking of different canvas layers provide the incubation conditions for this body, as does the “picture disassembly” – the cutting away, tearing off, scratching and burning. The creative act, the hand of the artist – David Holzinger gives precedence to this traditional constant in art production. And this, in the year 2019, is no anachronism, but quite simply the post-digital counter-movement opposing fast-lane, manically accelerating worlds of images that can neither be brought to materialisation, nor felt, nor explored by touch.


Lisa Ortner-Kreil