November 3-19, 2023
The exhibition Silly Objects presents the work of the Austrian artist HNRX, offering an in-depth look at his artistic evolution and his approach to the de-construction and reformation of everyday objects. This exhibition represents an artistic journey that goes beyond traditional labels and boundaries, as HNRX works both in the studio and in the international urban landscape.
HNRX, originally from Innsbruck, Austria, and now based in Hamburg, Germany, has dedicated a lifetime to developing his unique artistic style. The exhibition “Silly Objects”, curated by Elena Sinagra and Street Levels Gallery, features his most recent works which serve as a snapshot into his artistic practice and stylistic evolution that is continuously unfolding.
HNRX’s works are characterized by a playful and joyful quality, challenging strict reason and inviting us to see the world in a new light.
Many of the works exhibited in Silly Objects feature signature elements from HNRX’s canon, such as scissors, peppers, pipes, and pickles. Seemingly random and common objects, depicted beyond recognition as they twisted and contorted to resemble complete abstraction in some cases. HNRX is affiliated with the movement Post-Graffiti, which signifies Urban Art’s adoption of studio-based mediums and the stylistic transition into abstraction.
In the exhibition Silly Objects the Austrian artist, HNRX, takes us through time on a processual journey of the deconstruction and reformation of everyday objects. HNRX’s practice transcends labels and boundaries as he uses various mediums producing works created in the studio as well as in the local and international urban landscape. He began his creative practice by drawing and painting as a young child, to then experimenting with spray paint as a teenager. His style has evolved from figurative depictions to now leaning into abstraction by illustrating contorted forms in nonsensical terrains. HNRX is affiliated with the artistic movement known as Post-Graffiti, which, depending on the context, refers to the transition from street to gallery and urban art’s stylistic development into abstraction. The artist and curator Cedar Lewson and researcher Kristina Borhes have individually examined and inferred that in the U.S., the term ‘Post-Graffiti’ is mainly used to refer to those who started their careers as graffiti writers or street artists and then moved on to studio-based mediums such as drawing and painting. The 1983 seminal group exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, Post-Graffiti, sought to bear witness to this unfolding development. Sidney Janis later declared that the event marked when “…graffiti artist’s painting, no longer transitory or ephemeral, joins the tradition of contemporary art and is recognized as an existing valid movement”. In the European contemporary art canon, however, the term takes on a different meaning and has been used to describe the stylistic transformation that was initiated in the ‘90s and 2000s which shifted away from concrete lettering into non-figuration and abstraction. HNRX permeates both these configurations of the movement as he simultaneously works within the studio and gallery space while also increasingly adopting an abstract style.
HNRX works within the liminal space of creativity by constantly experimenting and redeveloping his artistic language and style. For this reason, he shies away from categorizations, feeling that it limits his unfolding artistic path. The intersection of where his empirical research meets his inner conceptual process drives him to create. He depicts seemingly familiar objects–such as pickles, lemons, scissors, telephones, and pipes, but in a twisted manner making them nearly unrecognizable. Furthermore, these objects often float in non-representational backgrounds which subverts their usual context, thus emanating a sense of disorientation. This subversion and contortion push us to look at the world around us more critically and reconsider the seemingly trivial objects and symbols that construct the rhythm of our daily lives. There is a clear dialogue, in both theory and content, to Surrealism. HNRX emphasized his inspiration from the movement due to the importance of both technical skill and imagination in assembling works that show the fantastical ways reality manifests itself and how art, in turn, manifests reality.
Silly Objects represents a moment in HNRX’s practice and life. The pieces shown, all created within the last year, construct a particular episode within a larger narrative. As he is quoted as saying “I want to show new ways of painting and forming compositions… I want to be in time.” The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard similarly remarked, “Life can only be understood backward but must be lived forwards”, signifying that although the present moment is fleeting, it still acts as the conjecture point uniting the past and the present, on both the individual and the collective scale. It is through the experiences, choices, and events, all embedded within the elastic string of time, which eventually unfold into a history of our own personal narratives and therefore also a pathway forward. The idea that life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards, is not only applicable to a personal life philosophy but additionally to cultural structures and collective identity. In HNRX’s artistic practice, we can see and trace this evolution as a proactive and self-informing process. HNRX has stated regarding his artistic approach, “It is all about the process”. The word itself takes its root from the Latin processus and means “a going forward, advance, progress”. Each moment and piece exists within a contextual dialogue between what came before and what precedes it. He is continuously creating and redeveloping his artistic language by inventing new forms and testing distinctive techniques. This method of creative growth is clearly emblematic of his own life journey; as he matures as a person, the forms and techniques that were previously used become insufficient to symbolize his current condition and perspective. Thus, there is a sensical transition from figuration to abstraction, which he describes as simultaneously caused by his interest in pushing his artistic and technical capabilities and by the visceral need to construct new symbols to represent his internal state.
The works in Silly Objects, as explained by HNRX, are merely the products of a larger system at play; each piece is a physical manifestation of internal and corporal experience. As he states, “The creative process is not controllable” but it is rather a sort of condition that allows such action to come forth. In both his works and artistic practice, there exists a jovial quality and playfulness. As the name suggests, silliness enables the adoption of a perspective that is liberated from the oppressive confines of strict rationalism; we are able to see the world, and therefore ourselves differently when there is a playful or unusual juxtaposition. The Enlightenment poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, theorized that when at play, the subsequent aesthetic and creative experience enables the cultivation of a freed self and therefore also fulfills a higher ideal of humanity. As he famously said, “Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays”. HNRX engages in play by innovatively working to depict a composition that pushes and explores the lines between figuration and abstraction. Simultaneously, the viewer also engages in play through the experience and interaction with such material.
An integral aspect of HNRX’s artistic practice is the importance of traveling and being in new places. It is through seeing the architectural makeup of a city and the cultural foundations in its people that inspires and enables his creativity. HNRX has traveled to create murals in cities in Italy, Belgium, the UK, and Germany. The use of travel by interrail creates an expansive and more nuanced dialogue between art, artist, and viewer – transcending borders and tying together several cultural threads. In this show, the pieces, artist, and exhibition space all come from different geographical areas but converge into one event. This not only follows in line with HNRX’s artistic methodology, but also within the larger history of urban art. The genesis of what we know now as graffiti and street art originated with the use of tagging and spray painting images on train carts, which would then run through the city disseminating their messages and signatures. Conversely, HNRX travels by train to other cities to create his art and messages there. Here, we can see how the evolution of time and culture has enabled different practices and opportunities in how we express and experience art. In both cases, art acts as the unifying force – weaving together space and time.
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