“Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?”
I imagine young Olivier applying for a higher education course. Much like every living soul on this planet, he must not have known what would, career wise, forever bring him happiness. He’s not to blame; there is so much to choose from nowadays and career changes aren’t unusual in any ways. Walt Disney was a newspaper editor before he got fired for supposedly “lacking imagination and good ideas”. Sting, before becoming The Police’s famous frontman, was Mr. Sumner, an English teacher and soccer coach. Comedian and TV host Ellen Degeneres, named Showtims’s Funniest Person in America in 1982, was originally a paralegal and “oyster shucker”. Stories like these, they pile up, but we tend to only hear about the big ones, the ones that get full online, tv and radio coverage.
In Vienna we find Olivier Hölzl, with almost a decade worth of background in marketing and sales, now putting up work amongst the cleanliness of the city and the most impressive architecture. Immersed in such a rich urban life, he finds himself inspired by his surroundings and the daily news, but also by the internet’s massive information. Vienna —”city of the Habsburgs and Freud”— is often recalled as an intellectual city, in which arts and culture come from a long tradition. Although now in 2016, opera and contemporary art aren’t the only most-talked-about forms of art. As a matter of fact, between the architectural heritage, the wide avenues and the sidewalk cafes, one can easily find a nice graffiti piece. But Austria’s graffiti and street art go beyond spray paint; artists will opt for stencils, posters, stickers, sculpture, video projections, installations and all kinds of innovative technique to better put out their political or social messages to a generally broader audience.
Many thanks to Olivier Hölzl who went out of his way to answer my questions about his art, the Austrian graffiti scene and so much more.
[Fresh Paint Gallery]: Can you introduce yourself? How long have you been part of the Austrian graffiti scene?
[Olivier Hölzl]: I’m half French, half Austrian. I live in Vienna, where I also have my studio… To be honest, I don’t know if I’m really part of the graffiti scene in Vienna, my story is a bit different. I know a lot of graffiti people like Fresh Max, Peter Phobia, Boicut or Busk, they are all very good artists and luckily also good friends of mine. When I was younger, I wasn’t actively involved in the graffiti scene. After high school, I majored in economics and worked in Marketing and Sales for 8 years. Over those sales years, I felt empty and decided to become an artist, which at that point I was thirty, and some of my friends were artists themselves. I was unemployed for a year’s length and drew every day from dawn to dusk. At the time, I wasn’t looking for any feedback and, in that way, I developed my self-esteem. I also started painting and studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna (die Angewandte).
[F.P.]: If you don’t know whether you’re really part of Vienna’s graffiti scene, how would you best describe yourself as an artist?
[O.H.]: I developed the stencil technique seeing as painting got a little too one dimensional for me. I had a hard time expressing exactly what I wanted and in Salzburg, I met Dan Perjovschi. He was telling me that he, as a young Romanian artist, never got a chance to travel outside his country as nobody wanted to pay for the insurance or the transport of his artwork. So he found a way to travel and get his message out by putting up political drawings on the walls of exhibition spaces. Flexibility was key for him; he was able to express anything he wanted. Everywhere he goes, all he needs to make a full installation now is an ending-marker. We talked a lot about the flexibility of the stencil technique and I focused on it more and more. That’s what I took from the graffiti scene; the artists are amazingly flexible and the graffiti scene is well organized. You get to some place and you know where to stay, you know where to paint, you meet the local artists. The contemporary gallery scene is way more hierarchical. Young artists have a great waiting period, which is terrible for the creative process. I love to be in between those two scenes as a hybrid. We’re in 2016, people like Brad Downey, Marc Jenkins and the Wa are good examples of new ways of creating art. That doesn’t exclude the fact that I love to use spray can on the streets too, but I travel in countries like Armenia, Georgia, Serbia and Turkey. I like having the people living where I do my pieces involved in the process. I try to get a verbal permission for it to be half legal for me to paint, but there is always some kind of trouble along the way, which makes it exciting.
[F.P.]: One of your first exhibitions took place in 2010 and five years have now gone by. What have been your best memories and favorite exhibition?
[O.H.]: I loved every trip abroad. Recently, I was in Belgrade, which was a great time. I also took part in a project involving the workers at a great experimental Biennale in Turkey. I think the craziest exhibition I did was in Krems (Austria). First, I was just looking for an abandoned house for myself. It was the GPL Contemporary’s gallery owner who found the building I needed for my show. It had 4 floors and was over 2500 square meters. With my friend, Andreas Nader, we decided to invite more artists. Artists Gert Resigner and Anne Sophie Wass were also of great help.
[F.P.]: What are two or three songs that could perfectly depict the universe you find yourself in when creating?
[O.H.]: I love all of Serge Gainsbourg’s songs. It depends on my mood. I also make music myself.
[F.P.]: Today’s street art goes well beyond its traditional roots. Your exhibitions are very tonal, filled with uneven lines and are known to explore the concepts of family, business, religion, war and sexuality. It also seems like repetition is key to your art. What inspires you to create/what’s your vision?
[O.H.]: What inspires me the most is observing what is happening now. I read the news and I use social media. As a matter of fact, the internet itself is my biggest source of inspiration. You can work with a topic without ever having been there. When I was still in University they warned us that web information doesn’t have the same reliability what you find in books. And yes, of course it’s true, but the web is really mind-blowing. You can find thousands of opinions related to one topic. I like to read the comment sections as they show you how frustrated some people are. Then I also sometimes observe myself and how narrow minded my behavior on the net is.
We’re in a data madness era. Instagram is completely insane… within a second you decide if you like it or not on your little screen. And when somebody comes up with what you liked earlier, you only kind of remember it because you couldn’t really process it. People today could do anything but they don’t because they get lost in a wealth of information. So many topics emerge from that, it’s pure inspiration…
[F.P.]: What are the main challenges encountered for an artist working in a city filled with cultural and historical richness?
[O.H.]: It’s a good area to get inspired. Like you said it has so much history, from good to bad. And from good to bad I mean, for example, in 1913, Hitler, Trotsky, Tito, Freud and Stalin all lived in Vienna. Today, the main challenge is that all buildings are historical… but of course there are still many other areas that aren’t as sensitive. Vienna, for graffiti, actually has a good reputation in the sense of being very active. In general, you can say that Vienna is a “Disney World” of art; historical to contemporary.
[F.P.]: Can you tell me a bit about the galleries in Vienna? Are there spaces for alternative art to be easily showcased?
[O.H.]: Quite new here and located in the middle of the Museumsquarter is the Jan Arnold Gallery where conceptual art and street art are combined. Unfortunately, the Inoperable Gallery in Vienna announced that they are now shut down… That was definitely the most ambitious gallery in the city when it comes to street art. However, you definitely have lots of spaces; Rabbit Eye Movement, The SWDZ, The Moe, The Dessous, The Vesch, Das Weisse Haus…
[F.P.]: Knowing there are several hundred meters of street art on the banks of the Danube, to what extent do authorities accept graffiti in Vienna? What kind of fines or charges can you get if a police officer arrests you?
[O.H.]: I think at this point, it’s important to differentiate. Many of the murals you see in the world today are part of art festivals, so you get permission to do that. The police, of course, don’t care about this, same with the canal. You can paint there since is permitted by the city of Vienna though tagging is illegal and the police will charge you for that when caught. But that’s what makes the whole excitement of it. I know that the police force also keeps a “vandalism” log. When they think it’s artistically the same guy, they will archive the information in the same folder. If and when the artist gets caught, he’s definitely facing lots of problems, especially financially as they will make him pay for the “cleaning”. The biggest case of this was a Swiss artist called Puber. What was special about Puber was that he literally sprayed the whole city. Before he was arrested, people talked about him. An while most of the time tagging doesn’t positively catch the eye of people who aren’t involved in graffiti, he was an exception. People realized he was all over the city and they were asking who that guy was. When he got arrested, everyone in the arts talked about him.
[F.P.]: How has the country’s war historical context influence the art scene in Vienna? What impact does it have on your personal work?
[O.H.]: The worst about both World Wars, especially WW2, is that the city’s intellect was thrown out or eliminated. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna was a hot spot for art. Today, some people have come back but we’re still far from that level… What I love about Vienna though is that I have artist friends from all over the world; they’ll be from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, France, USA, Russian, Italy, Germany, etc.
[F.P.]: What would be needed for the graffiti and street art scenes to exponentially grow? I feel like we hear about Berlin a whole lot, but less of Vienna despite the rich artistic culture.
[O.H.]: I think that both the graffiti and street art scenes are very self-organized with less hierarchy and institutions than the contemporary art scene. Street art and graffiti are no national phenomena. When you travel to different cities you will often find the same artists. Berlin is more into that seeing the structure of the city allows it; it grew out of two systems and became one. Also, there are definitely more abandoned areas than in Vienna. Many people in the United States don’t even know Austria exists.
[F.P.]: Do you have any current shows?
b[O.H.]: I had an opening on January 19 at Bildraum07 in Vienna. The exhibition is called “Forts, Facts and Fabrications”. It’s about castles and in the middle of it — the “castle of the castles”—, French Versailles. Briefly, it’s about melting facts and illusions around the myth of castles altogether. It also shows a castle that was originally built on Minecraft.
© All photos courtesy of Olivier Hölzl.
Olivier Hölzl | Website | FB | IG
Born in Innsbruck (Austria) on April 11 of the year 1979, Olivier Hölzl is a half French, half Austrian artist currently based out of Vienna. Acting upon an intricate desire to fill an inner void, he turns to art after 8 years of Marketing and Sales. Though he always goes by his full name, he created for himself the palindrome LIVIL. A combination of all the Roman numbers, “LIVI” comes from his first name with the ending “L” taking its origins from his family name Hölzl. The last “L” from LIVIL will be flipped for tags as the typo becomes a form. Greatly inspired by the internet in general, Olivier Hölzl tends to explore the concepts of family, business, religion, war and sexuality. Currently showcasing his newest work “Forts, Facts and Fabrications” at Bildraum07 in Vienna, the 36-year-old artist considers himself an artistic hybrid, floating between graffiti and conceptual art, exploiting themes through his own personalized stencil technique, bringing him great flexibility in his creative process.