If you find street art murals consisting of comic sausages, bananas or cucumbers, then these food graffitis in pop-up style are most likely made by the fantastic Austrian artist HNRX. In his pieces are often the ordinary things of everyday life which he combines on the motifs in a surreal, funny but also thought-provoking way. However, it is not only limited to fruits, vegetables and food, toothbrushes or dentures are also great on house walls. HNRX is continously developing and reinventing his style. From comic-like poster images to meanwhile detailed and complex abstract murals. Still the preference for everyday objects is a constant theme in his so-called “Deformatyons”.
For the last five years HNRX has travelled extensively across Europe via Interrail. Accordingly, in many cities you will find large-scale masterpieces that testify to his visit. In the more recent images, graphic elements play an increasingly important role, transforming formerly grey facades into colourful, breathtaking images that combine grid-like order with surreal, detailed chaos. HNRX also paints on canvas and in September a solo exhibition is planned in Innsbruck, as well as ten smaller pop-up exhibitions in various cities with his prints and drawings. A trademark of HNRX is to paint the complete gallery rooms for each of his bigger events.
In Austria, the artist organizes the Underbridge Festival and participates in the Future Icons Festival as a curator. His works are also available through his online shop, and there are also cool clothes stocked with his art. In an interview which we recorded before the Corona lockdown HNRX told us about his work, about the graffiti scene in Austria and as well about the difficulties of the artist’s life. He was in Naples at that time and the internet connection wasn´t good. The audio quality is just not nice to listen to, but you can read the translated and written down conversation in the following page peppered with photos and videos about the art of HNRX.
When and how did this start with your art?
I started painting relatively early. This has already started in my kindergarten. At that time, I preferred to paint than to tinker or to build something with the other children. And that’s just stuck with me. This has continued to accompany and to occupy me as well in high school, and it has simply developed further and further. And now that’s what it is. So my profession, my vocation and also my passion. And I’m actually quite happy with it.
I also see on your website that you not only paint, but you also teach other people something about art. So you also do tours and mediate to people who may not know what graffiti is and also show interesting spots in the city.
Yes, this is relatively new with the tour. I think that’s funny and nice that it already appeals to a relatively large number of people. That’s a great thing. Until recently, last autumn actually, this was never really a topic for me. I worked more alone, more like doing my ego thing and painting all over Europe. And these street art tours, so I’ve always laughed at them and found them almost superfluous at first. But somehow I learned over time that there are a lot of people who know as much about street art as I do about quantum physics. It’s just not tangible to them. And for these people it is just important that someone explains and teaches them the most trivial and important thing, because otherwise they don’t understand it at all. And then my opinion changed and I think that street art tours are actually quite okay. Innsbruck is a small town and we are already doing a lot there. So we paint a lot of walls, but we don’t offer any other cultural offerings in that respect. That’s why I thought I’d start with a tour like this and see how much people are interested in getting to grips with it.
I think that’s great! Because everyone is in their own world and has their own passions and preferences. And sometimes you just have to mediate between the worlds.
That’s right, that’s it. That wasn’t there for me at the beginning, because I thought it might be too commercial or I found it a bit idiotic to have to explain this subculture to the average consumers. Maybe now I’m mature enough to see that it’s also important that you do exactly that. Because otherwise people might get it wrong and it’s better to have someone explain it to them right than through some amateur information that might not be true.
I’ve got your website open here, and I’m looking around on it. The perimeter of the Murals and the size, so these are already partly really huge buildings, where you also had to drive up with a crane. What was the biggest building you painted?
So the biggest one was 40 meters. That was also in Innsbruck. But for now, it doesn’t have to be anything bigger. Currently I’m more focused on small formats because the big one is so intense and so elaborate. It’s fun, but it’s very close to the fact that you end up wondering what it’s for. And then there are always these phases where you think, actually, it’s just stress for nothing. That’s why I’m looking for smaller formats at the moment. So it’s still big, but in proportion to smaller formats. Maybe something bigger will come around in the summer, but I don’t have to crack the 40-meter mark so fast.
I think these are also projects that go on longer. So painting such a huge house, that’s cool. That’s what it says, you can see it from afar. But it is also much more difficult to realize an image in size. You have to go up with the crane and down again and again to see what it looks like and if everything fits. The effort is much greater, because you are busy for several days. With the smaller pieces you can work much closer to the object.
Yeah, that’s right. And basically, the message you bring, the message you want to transport, you can do that with a smaller image as well. The big one is basically just for your own ego, which you usually want to push. But you can say that even with a small or smaller image you can reach the same number of people and possibly save yourself a lot of work, effort and stress. Nevertheless, I still think it’s important to do something bigger time by time. It’s also nice to work on a picture for a longer period. So two, three or four days. But I would say, as intensely as I have done in recent years, I don’t think I will do that in the next few years. I’ve been doing almost one or two big things a week for a long time. That’s very intense.
There are always such phases, where you think, now I want to do this, but now something else or I just want to try something new. How did you come across MOTS? Because that´s our connection which brought us to this interview here. Jagoda and Diogo wrote me about your nice new colab mural in Graz.
They contacted me last summer because I have two festivals in Austria. One is in Innsbruck and there we had painted large pillars. The two had applied for it, but the line-up was already fixed. But then someone jumped out of another festival in Graz and I thought they would be perfect. They seem nice to me, so I invited them there. The two really came along quite spontaneously. I think I called them only two days before, because someone has jumped off at short notice, and then they really came over to Graz. A friendship has developed out of this. I like how the two tick and also the simple way to talk and work with each other. From such joint projects and if you understands each other, then usually also further collaborations arise from it.
Yeah, I like those two artists too. Their nature is very sympathetic and also designed for networks and collaborations. Competitive thinking is not there at all, but rather creating something collectively. You just said you’re organizing two festivals. Tell me a little bit more about it.
One is the Underbridge Festival. There are three of us organizing this event and it took place for the first time in 2018 in Innsbruck. For the first concept we had painted five large highway pillars. So the huge pillars that carry the whole highway. They’re like 25-meter-high monuments. We painted five of them, each artist made one side. For this I had invited four other artist friends and after that we wanted to expand with the festival. So last year in 2019 we carried the festival to Salzburg and then made five walls in the city. So no highway pillars. But it doesn’t look so good for this year, because last year it just cost us so much effort and nerves. That was so intense. Of course it was a lot of fun as well, but the work that you put into it was just too much and you can’t earn much for yourself afterwards, except for a little handshake and hugging, that’s just not always worth it. As an artist, you also have to live on something and it was simply not enough to pull out even some small fee for us. That’s why we decided to take a break this year.
You just have to be careful not to be taken advantage of. DJ friends of mine also get upset about the requests, whether they can make music in a location or whether a graphic designer could create some flyers and logos for free. Unfortunately it is not possible to reward the work. As an artist you have to be careful and to make sure you don’t emaciate yourself.
Yeah, that’s right. Something like that can happen. But the festival has also come about with our own intentions. It was really our motivation to do that. We want to carry the festival to cities in Austria, where nothing else happens. So in Vienna there are festivals for urban art, but otherwise it doesn’t look so good in the country. However, we had probably just pictured it a bit nicer. But you would need more helping hands and also more people to take the lead. Because in the end everything will stick to me. I’m the creative director or something like that, so to speak, and everyone has to always get the „yes” or the „approval” from me. And that alone is too much and annoying for me. It must then be possible to give away more responsibility to a bigger group.
At first I thought you were a team with maybe 30 people. But of course, if it only weighs on the shoulders of five people, then that’s a lot of work and in the end it all comes together with you.
Yes, so the first festival I had done alone and at the event last year, there were three of us, but five artists. These included PETER BIRK (DK), KJ 2613 (GER), JANA & JS (AUT) and SAYNE ONE (AUT). That might not sound so much now with five artists on five walls. But all the work you have to do about the organization with every wall, that’s unbelievable. A huge amount of bureaucratic work, from all the permissions to cranes and paints. You wouldn´t believe it. If I think back now, I can’t believe it either. That’s why I’m just going to leave my hands out of it for now.
Of course, the whole thing, the clarification with the authorities and to make sure everything works. That’s a lot of effort. But you mentioned two festivals? So there’s another one?
Yes, the other one is in Graz. This is called Future Icons Festival and it is organized by Norbert Lipp. I’m just the curator, and that’s a more pleasant position, because I’m actually just picking artists, then communicating between the artist and the organizer, and now and then saying my opinion about it. But that’s it again. Since I have almost nothing to do with the whole organizational part. This is actually quite a good thing, and it will again take place in Granz in 2020. I think that is going to be great.
Not only do you have works in urban space, means outside and on walls in the open area, but you also make exhibitions. And the next one is even in Amsterdam.
Yeah, that’s right. So these are plans for this year. Last year was not an exhibition year for me. I was only present at a few group exhibitions. But this year I definitely do a big solo show in September and ten small solo shows in different cities.
So these are with your works on canvas then? And I can see here some great photos wehre you painted the whole gallery room? Cool, and even the couch!
Yeah, that’s right. That’s the way it’s usually done. When I do a solo exhibition, I usually paint the whole room.
Looks very cool! Especially the one here with all your sausages on the wall and around it are all the spectators. In some way all the people there look like even more little pieces of sausage.
Haha, that’s right. These were the biggest sausages at the exhibition. At the moment I also have a new concept, which is based on drawings. I’m very busy at the moment making a lot of drawings again. So just with white paper and black pen. I will then exhibit them in ten cities all over Europe. This will be a small pop-up exhibition. And in September I have the big exhibition and there I will show the canvases like the framed artworks on the website.
The question is also always ungrateful when you ask an artist to describe his art. You do murals, but also paintings on canvas. You mentioned as well the pop up style, and a lot of works remind me to comic book drawings. There is something similar to speech bubbles on it, so not really speech bubbles, but these stars and explosions, that reminds me of the effects in a comic book. Or with the one picture, where the piece of meat breaks through in the middle, there is almost only the „Crash” or the „Kaboom” missing written in the star. In other places, you’ve even built that in.
Yeah, that’s the old stuff, that’s for sure. I’ve gotten away from this a little bit by now. That’s the stuff around 2015 and before. But in any case, that’s true, the older things are very comic-heavy. And the new things try to get more away from it, but I can’t quite do that completely, because I still work very strikingly. But it’s true, there’s an origin in the comic book. Graffiti is also very strongly influenced by comics in general. So comic book hits it, but not quite so much anymore. Let’s see how it develops.
Did you read a lot of comics before? Because I’m also a big comic book fan myself and if you like it and read a lot, you might also incorporate it into your own stuff and art. So you’ve read a lot of comics?
Actually not really. I’ve looked at things before, especially Walt Disney had me excited. So the Walt Disney comics, that was a long time ago. But then all the Marvel stuff, I didn’t really care. I have to be honest, I’ve never read the comics. That wasn’t my thing and I didn’t find the superhero theme really exciting. But of course, the things I do have similarities. At the end of the day, everything comes out of my imagination. I paint everything out of my head. I never take templates or anything. That’s why it’s probably the most primitive way to paint out of your head. And that’s probably why it often seems comic. It wasn’t painted, it was really constructed from the mind. Then it often ends up in such line-like stuff.
So mostly it’s a mixture of many things. But you can say it’s going in the direction of wildstyle. So when you paint HNRX, it’s not always so clearly recognizable. But then there are also a lot of structures involved. So with the small as well as with the large pictures, you also paint with a lot of graphic elements and somehow connect all this with each other. It’s a bit chaotic, but that’s also structured. So chaos in structure.
Yeah, that’s right. So in the end all the pictures are somehow based on lines. And that’s why it looks so graphic.
Exactly, it often looks very graphic. You have some kind of grid, but then inside the grid, there you unfold something surreal again.
Yes, that’s right. And at the moment, the things are also very small. So in the past it was rather striking, but now the pictures consist of many small lines. But the comic book remains still a bit with it.
I also like it very much when artworks are extremely detailed. For hours you can simply occupy yourself with a small square meter, because there is already so much to discover there.
Yeah, I like that, too.
You also have an online shop and sell different things there. There are your pictures, prints, but also clothing such as t-shirts and sweaters.
That’s right, so I just got this online store on my website. There I also offer original drawings or special items that I find at my studio and of which I believe that you can also sell. There is always something new to it. That’s the stuff I sell online. And then at the exhibitions all the originals and drawings can be bought. For me, the t-shirt is simply a medium that I now also use additionally. There are people who don’t really know much about art. They would never buy a painting, a print or a drawing, but they think my stuff is great and would rather have a t-shirt or a sweater. Then there are also the people with whom it is exactly the other way around. So they don’t find art on t-shirts that interesting or that doesn’t tell them anything, they find it superfluous. They want to have a real artwork and for them there is just an original painting counting. That’s why it’s good to be able to serve all people a little bit with it. And I think it´s exciting to do something creative on t-shirts and clothes.
Some people don’t know the artworks and are not that connected to art in general. You have to find different ways to make it accessible to others. And maybe one of them comes up with a painted picture on a canvas, the other finds a mural cool and the next one is flashed by clothes or a t-shirt and that’s the way. So everyone has a completely different view and perception.
Yes, I agree.
You have to market yourself to some degree, because as you said earlier, you can’t do everything for free. Maybe you still have the energy at the beginning, but to do everything for free all these years, you will eventually get a burnout. Somehow you also have to pay your rent and make sure that you have new colors, paint and equipment. I would also like it if I never had to ask anyone for money at all and people would simply give it of their own accord and appreciate the work. But unfortunately it doesn´t work like this.
No, I’m afraid that’s not the case. I used to think there’s just the point where sombody says, okay, that’s worth so much and that’s what you will get for it. But as long as you do street art, it’s different. Street art is actually the art form that is accessible to everyone and free for everyone. Then, unfortunately, sometimes you really have to squeeze it out of people. So give me something, because otherwise I can’t go on doing this anymore. Now a little overstated, but you really have to start at some situation. And at that point, I’m just realizing you have to tell people. Well, I’m really the last one to force this on. But you have to draw their attention to it again and again. So yes, if you think it’s cool, then support me or support us artists. For example, support for the festival, for all the walls and for what we are doing. Everything you see on my homepage, so 99% of all this was created at my own expenses.
You have to find your own way so that you don’t burn yourself out completely.
Yeah, that’s right, you have to. And I also think it’s very important as a form of confirmation. Well, I’m not the kind of guy who wants to get rich with art now. But in the meantime, I have to say I don’t mind. I invest so much time and so much energy in art. I’ve probably worked as much in the last five years as others have in fifteen years. And why shouldn’t I earn as much as anyone who works 35 hours a week? Yeah, it’s just a little bit missing, and that’s my turn. I’m kind of working on this part right now.
I think it is also important and good that you try to look a little further outside the box. Because that helps the whole community and the art in general, if you explain and give access to people who don’t understand art so much or don’t have so much to do with it and you bring it a little closer to them. This is actually a blessing to convey to humanity, because you are also getting something back after that. If people understand art better and get a different view of it, then appreciation for the work comes back eventually.
Yes, I agree.
How is it with you in Austria and Innsbruck with the graffiti and street art scene? Because you said before, there’s a lot going on in Vienna, but not much in the other cities.
Compared to Germany, it’s a big difference, because we have a lot of smaller cities. Innsbruck is a small town with 120,000 inhabitants and the scene is correspondingly small. Some events and projects are happening regularly, but it’s often the same thing and from the same people. Unfortunately, the whole scene does not really grow beyond itself. That’s why we always try to invite international artists. Because who comes to Innsbruck? When I think of Frankfurt, so really everyone is passing through at some time. And it can more likely happen that one of the famous artists comes by and does something there. This never happens in Innsbruck and nobody gets lost here. That’s why it’s important to me to do something here and show people that we have good artists and painters. There are many others and also really good artists, who maybe not only paint once a week or every two weeks, but just really sit on it every day. And these artists are really awesome and very talented. It’s also important to me to show this local art and creativity to other people. Actually it is like this in the whole of Austria that there are mainly only small cities spread over the country, except just in Vienna which is the capital with a quite big scene. The city of Graz has perhaps 250,000 inhabitants, which is also only a small town. And there is just not so much happening, you have to say that unfortunately. There’s the Mural Harbour in Linz or the so called Harbour Gallery. And in Vienna, there is a great deal and really many artists from all fields. But in the rest of Austria it is just quiet.
It’s nice and also great for your ego to paint such a huge mural on a big building, but it’s also very exhausting. During the last years I can see a development in other countries and this can be observed also here in Germany. In fact, most people in society have little connection to graffiti, street art and urban art, except that people know the tags and perceive it all as smudges on the wall or vandalism. Of course, that’s also part of it. But the more of these big murals are created, the more people perceive it differently, and many of them say „Oh, that’s what it also can look like. I didn´t know. Yes, that’s nice and cool.“ And I think such a big mural painting in a city, it seems like a kind of breakthrough forwards and opens up a new area. People see the work of art and all of a sudden other works are accepted more and people get a ruffle for the fact that there are very different styles and kind of artworks. Do you have the feeling it is developing similarly in Austria?
Well, it’s very different in each countries. I really travel a lot and I´m nearly constant on the road for five years now. I can see that each city is very different from the other. So not just every country, but every city. In Austria, in all honesty, it is very difficult. I don’t want to scold my country now, but the way we deal with urban art is sometimes very conservative. So it definitely gets better and it certainly keeps on to differ. Older generations can probably agree with me, but there could be much more happen and develope. So there is still a lot more potential. There was also a lot going in on of course and I think in the last five years street art has become very popular. As a result, it is also better known to the average consumers and they now accept this as an art form. People see that there are also these big murals and not just the smudges, which of course are an important part of the scene.
Yeah, sure, that’s what I meant. So it all belongs together.
We’re aware of that, yes. But not the others. Most of the time, when I’m painting in the city, no matter where, at least three times a day someone comes by and tells me it´s great or „Wow, that’s so nice!” But then as well something like this: „Yes, I like this here, but I don’t like it when it is like this or that.“ Those are the sayings then. That’s what happens when I paint really unlied at least three times a day. And I just keep saying: „Yes, yes, you’re right. You are absolutely right.“ Because it’s just too hard for me to argue with these people. In the beginning I tried to explain that all this is an important part of the scene, the origin and that the whole thing comes from and arises from. But now I don’t feel like it anymore and just say „Yes, yes, you’re right.“ I just want to rest and paint. You can’t explain it to them so easily in five minutes and I don’t want to spend more time there.
Yes, you have to divide your energies, but you also have to fight for something. And then such actions are quite good. Making such a great mural is much more than just for one’s own ego, it’s like a bastion being put in. It’s like „Bämm, here it is!” This also works against conservative thinking and serves to break it up somehow. Sometimes you just have to put a 40-meter thing in the middle of the city.
Absolutely. And it’s the way it is. Urban art happens outside and it’s like that with a normal artist, when you’re good, you get a good gallery and a good exhibition. When it comes to urban art, if you’re good, you might get a good wall in a good position. But that is also a sign to say that we are good enough and that is what we deserve. In any case, that’s true. If you just put little spots all over the place, which are only one square meter in size, then it shows that we are already there, but not loud either. It looks like we’re just very small, and if you want, we’ll go. But if you bang such a huge thing, then it is clearly shown: We are here now and that won’t change so quickly. You just have to start accepting that now.
To put it in an abstract way, you can throw a bunch of bombs at a city, and then it’s all destroyed. Everybody can see that. And such a mural is almost like an artistic counterpart. There is also bombing, but with a bomb of creativity and color. It can be done on a house, but the opposite happens. It’s not that the house is going to break, it’s going the other way. An old, ugly, gray building is suddenly upgraded as a beautiful attraction and gets recognition even beyond the city limits.
That’s right. But I also think that a lot of people have a very positive image about urban art. A lot of people are really happy about those doings. I’m currently in Napoli in Italy. And I made a wall outside today. That’s unbelievable, there are so many people coming and just happy about it. The city is actually poor, if you look at the bottom line. Actually, there aren’t many people here who are wealthy. The foot people are actually poor and they are really happy that artists come here and do something creative at their own expense. This is actually very nice, because it is also an appreciation and that is unfortunately just different in Austria. But that really depends on every single city. It also happened to me when I was painting in Austria or in Germany that people came by and simply called the police. Or that they were pissing me off and saying it wasn’t allowed. So that’s what happened a few times when I did contract work during the day. And then I think to myself: Yes ok, the presumption is already justified. But let’s really face it, even if it wasn’t allowed, is what I’m doing here so bad?
That’s right. What is it exactly that is being created here, and is it really disrupting the wall? Take a closer look. What did the wall look like before and what does it look like now? Isn’t that a little prettier than before?
Exactly. Of course it’s also always a matter of taste and I accept every opinion, it’s not like that. But it always seems to me that in Central Europe or in the North, we sometimes. . .
. . . have a stick up the ass?
Yes, but really. I don’t want to take me out of this either, I am part of it as well. But when I watch the people here in Italy on the street, I think really wow! They are sometimes very bad and they have such financial difficulties, but they are really mostly in a good mood. You really have to say that.
That means I’m communicating with you to Italy right now. So you’re still in Naples?
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve got a great story about that, too. Because I was wandering around town yesterday, and then I saw a wall. It wasn’t that big, maybe two by three meters. I asked the store owner if I could paint his wall. She was pretty fucked up, too. He also said that I should simply do it and didn’t ask me what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to show him anything, it was just okay and I was allowed to be creative. I painted the wall today and he asked if I would also make the front of his shop.
Because he thought it was cool!
Yeah, that’s right. But I haven’t even really started yet. It was still the rough drawing and didn’t look good yet. But he just let me do it and it also meant that I can make the front clear too. Today I also painted this part and then the owner came back again and said: „Alright, then just do the whole shop!“ That was very cool! But I told him that he has to pay me something for it, because I’m not painting his whole shop for free now. I then made him a very good price, because here in Napoli you also have to estimate a bit the conditions. I can’t ask as much as I do in Germany or Austria.
Yes, you have to weigh the relation and the situation a little bit, how much the other can pay at all and how big is the budget.
Yes, of course. But I also found the guy likeable and I thought that fits. Anyway, I’ll do the whole place tomorrow. He has now put the entire interior out of the store, I paint everything and then he puts everything back in. But he still doesn’t know what to expect. Well, he has seen a little bit of it now, but he hasn’t asked at all.
That’s great, so also this spontaneity and that he’s open to it and just says, okay, why not.
Definitely, that’s great. So imagine that. After that, I’ll have designed his whole shop and he didn’t even ask me what I’m going to paint now. That’s awesome and motivating!
Tell me a little more about your travels. I guess you used to go on vacation like everyone else, but at some point you started to combine that with your art and now you’re also painting on your travels.
Let’s just say I don’t like being at home. I bought my first Interrail ticket in 2014 and got on the train with it. To this day, I just didn’t get out. That’s how you can imagine it. The first time I was on a journey with friends from Austria and there I took some things to paint with me. I’ve already painted a little on the tour. Well, I’ve done a lot with my friends, but I’ve also done a little painting. When the tour was over after a month, I thought it was really fun. And actually, I don’t need any other people to do it, I can do it alone. I meet people when I’m traveling anyway and will always find friends. And I’ve been riding the Interrail ever since. In the year I have my ten interrails and in between I am at home again and work on orders. That’s what I’ve been doing for about five years at a time. Yes, very cool!
And is there no homesickness or the desire to settle down somewhere else? Or are you currently enjoying it?
Well, now is just this point, at which I have decided that I should switch to another part, because I also want to set up a studio and work there more on my studio work. So traveling sounds very romantic and also very nice. And for sure it is! But travelling and working and then being independent at the same time is also very strenuous and has a lot to do with responsibility. It is very energy-depleting and I think that if I settle somewhere, here in Austria or in a German city, then I can save a lot of energy and concentrate on things that might take me further than just hoping from one city to the next. I’ve done it all now and I’ve seen it all, it was all very nice and I would never regret it, but I think now is the time to take a new step.
Come to Frankfurt!
Yes, Frankfurt. I also have a few people there that I really like very much and made a big mural there in the summer of the year before last. Actually, I did two things. One was under the Peace Bridge and the other is at a large six-story house.
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