Is it possible to create a good mural with only black and white? Admittedly, the answer to this question is subjective, but one person who would always steer you toward the answer “yes, it is”, is the Austrian artist, David Leitner. Based in Vienna but active around the world, Leitner is known for his pleasant mix of figuration, abstraction, patterns, and heavy use of black and white. Both, a prolific artist in his own right, and a collaborator when it comes to communal projects, festivals, and exhibitions, Leitner first came into the Montana Cans blog spotlight solo with the completion of his 2020 project Würmlas Wände. The project, based in the Austrian village of Würmla, consisted of 13 murals, 700 sqm, 100 liters of bucket paint, 80 Montana GOLD Shock Black spray cans, and collaboration with 30 residents. A project that went beyond just the visual result, and deep into the identity of a whole region. From then on, David Leitner was no longer just one of those guys, at one of those events.
Black, white, and a whole lot more
Connecting the dots, and realizing how prolific this artist really was, it was decided that it was time to exchange a few words with him to understand where he is coming from, and where he wants to go. Here is what he had to say in regard to some of the questions we had on our minds.
MC- Starting with the obvious, you seem to have a strong connection with the use of black and white in your images. Or at least black, white, and few other colors. How did this come about and where do you want to take this?
DL- It started with me transferring from oil paint to spray paint. Not having a huge background in graffiti, I just started to paint with spray paint a few years ago and it made sense to reduce it down to the basics. Somehow it evolved into more. In general, I’m a big fan of ROA and other B/W painters. Especially when it comes to murals, it makes sense to me to keep it simple, as most of the time there’s so much happening around the wall anyway. Also, it makes a great contrast to the usual visual landscape which is for the most part colorful. In addition, while traveling, it’s super convenient and lets you express ideas in the most basic manner.
MC- When choosing the “other” colors (other than black and white), is there much thought given or significance concerning the other color(s)?
DL- Yes! When painting murals or walls, I try to incorporate the surrounding area and mostly take colors from there. In general, I’m a big fan of pinky pastel tones mixed with earthy colors.
MC- Which black do you prefer to use and did you give this much consideration early on?
DL- I mostly use Montana GOLD SHOCK 9000, although recently going more for Montana BLACK 9001. I also started experimenting with other dark tones like Deep Forrest, changing the impact slightly. Early on I didn’t really think about it too much, as I was more concerned with getting my lines straight!
MC- Your artwork seems to be seeded with figures and shapes that feel as though they have symbolic importance to you. Is this the case, or do you choose the content in your images from a more aesthetic standpoint?
DL- It’s a mix of both and always depends on the project. I tried to get away from figuration, but always end up coming back to it. It’s definitely my favorite way of expressing feelings or concepts. Aesthetics also play a big role. I guess I’m a very visually oriented person.
MC- Do you prefer to pick a surface and its context to paint in, for example, a particular wall or building in a particular spot, and then create the design for it? Or do you do the design and then look for the right spot to paint it?
DL- Both. For murals, the sketches are always made in advance to really fit the wall format. Composition is a key element in my work and one of my favorite parts while creating a design. I usually draw directly on a photo of the wall, which is something I really enjoy, not having a blank white square. If I paint abandoned places or halls, I usually pick an already existing sketch or come up with something free-style at the moment on site.
MC- You have painted in many countries outside of your homeland Austria. Like Germany, Spain, India, U.S.A, and the Philippines. Was there any one artwork that stood out for you as more important to your development than any of the others?
DL- Every wall I painted in India was essential. Besides the top organization (much love to Start.India and Pranav Gohill) that allowed me to really focus on my work and experiment, painting in such a culturally rich but also socially poor environment definitely brought on a lot of thoughts. In general, painting in other countries is always enriching and always different. It really keeps the process fresh.
MC- When we look at your artwork on the freight car and in the abandoned spots, it appears you are equally as comfortable working legally or illegally. Is there any importance (or significance) for you working “with” or “without” permission?
DL- Abandoned spots are super interesting, as I’m a sucker for nostalgia and old things. It gives you a very special feeling and is always different. In countries like Austria, it’s also quite hard to get permission, so it makes sense to go to places like that. I enjoy both!
MC- How do you most like to work? Do you prefer to paint murals, create gallery work, or work for commercial customers?
DL- Right now I really enjoy painting outdoor. That’s where it makes the most sense for me. Vienna arguably is very well known for its graffiti and street art scene, but really lacks good galleries and collectors in that field. Not having a place to show work, kind of takes the fun out of painting canvas. For commercial clients, it really depends on the client. It can be quite nourishing to get input from another source, as long as you are not told what to do. For a good collaboration, it really takes trust and appreciation from both sides. Something to consider, as it seems really trendy right now, to paint advertising murals.
MC- Considering you have many variations of format that your murals are painted in (e.g. horizontal, vertical, square, etc), is there any format you prefer to work in and why?
DL- I like vertical more than horizontal. I’m dreaming of a round wall, which seems a little bit hard to find. The cool thing about painting murals is, that there are so many different formats and shapes, so it’s always a little bit different.
MC- Maybe it’s overly romantic thinking for someone who hasn’t spent time in mainland China, but how did your time in China come about, and was it culturally eye-opening? Or business as usual?
DL- Having been to (mostly) South East Asia a few times before China, the culture shock wasn’t that big and I kind of knew what to expect. But yes, every trip to Asia is culturally eye-opening. I’m always surprised by the kindness of the people. And the food. Shanghai was top notch in that case, as the whole variety of Chinese cuisine (every province has its own food) meats, and mixes there.
MC- What is your best memory of your time?
DL- I made a trip to Tibet, that was for sure one thing to remember. As was the 48h train ride from Shanghai to Lhasa. Unfortunately no painting there. And rooftops. You can access almost every rooftop in Shanghai without a hassle.
MC- Does graffiti writing, or classic graffiti style writing play a role in your creative path or thinking processes? Is it even relevant?
DL- It’s something that I enjoy seeing and sometimes do. It’s always fun as it really breaks down the basics of painting with spray paint. So in that sense, most of my paintings are like throw-ups, a basic fill in and outlines. I guess you could say it’s relevant and influenced my thinking process regarding technique.
MC- Does being Austrian with the cultural heritage behind that have any meaning to you in the creation of your artwork? If you weren’t in Austria, where would you rather be?
DL- It does to a certain extend. But in general, I’m influenced by culture from around the world. I consume a lot of art from different countries, which is the nice thing about social media. The downside might be, that there’s not a certain style unifying artists from one region like it used to be in past art movements. If I wouldn’t be in Austria, I would rather be somewhere in Asia or Africa, which seems difficult in times like these. I really hope that traveling gets easier again in winter, as that time of the year in Europe tends to pull me down a bit.
MC- Are you a consumer or supporter of social media, and does it play any role or influence in your artmaking?
Unfortunately, I’m a consumer of social media. I wouldn’t call myself a supporter of it. I think it really fucks up a lot of people and their creative process, I see it in myself. Let alone consuming murals through a tiny screen is kind of ridiculous. It’s also the constant comparison to others, that makes it a little evil tool. Speaking of little evil tools, algorithms are the worst right now. If I think about the future, I hope things like Tik Tok will disappear, although that’s very unlikely.
MC- What’s your favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?
DL- “160 Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Quotes on YouTube”. Haha.
MC- What is your favorite Montana Cans can-and-cap combination?
DL- Montana Cans Black Black with either the standard cap or a banana skinny!
Considering his limited color palette and the room to work within it, or break away from it, the artwork of David Leitner could go anywhere in the future. Something to look forward to over time that we look forward to sharing with you. As the real estate commercials always say, “watch this space!”
All images by the artist David Leitner & photographer Jolly Schwarz