Sebastian Heiners paintings in China

Sebastian Heiner is an individualist, which is a rare occurrence in the contemporary art market. With great severity, Heiner commits to an authentic thoroughbred painting. Though the artist works in phases, once in abstract gestures, another time depictive, his individuality remains apparent. His work genuinely demonstrates the craft of painting and Sebastian Heiner admires informal art. His heroes are Wols and Emil Schumacher who have been contributing to abstract painting since the mid 1940s.

Some artist generations later, Heiner also works within the realms of the abstract. Many collectors are attracted to his emotional works. Artists have a fine grasp of the possibilities of their and our lifetimes.

Artists used to travel to Italy to study the ancient world or to be part of this artistic era’s progression. Around 1900 they settled in Paris to shape innovations in art history and modern life. New York was later to become a magnet for artistic creators, just as much as Berlin and China attract creative nomads today. Here, cultural and social change happen faster than in any other country. Sebastian Heiner has been entwined in the artistic community of Berlin for quite some time. He has moved his personal centre of creation to China, one of the world’s epicentres of innovation. Since 2004, the artist has continually had a second studio in China. He first worked in Peking and recently in Shanghai, where the Expo took place and the international public marvelled at renowned architects’ fantastic constructions. Sebastian Heiner is not one of those artists who simply continues painting their own work in another environment. He has opened up to Chinese mannerisms including various influences in his artistic creations and has been influenced by China’s colours as well as innovations and a constant clashing of traditions. His most recent paintings include many abstracts but he has also devoted himself to representational paintings.

Chinese culture is the inspiration for a new series. Hereby he refers to the challenging artistic style of historical, mythological and allegorical imagery. Heiner combines spiritual and historical elements by the simple suggestion of a figure, as can be seen in the case of the bishop. This protagonist is a good example of Heiner’s work.

Sebastian Heiner does not merely depict a bishop, with the use of pointing gestures he makes him appear as an important, all-consuming figure fixed on the observer. He seems solemn and wealthy without being weighed down by details of his accoutrements. The reality is narrated and mediated beyond illustration. Heiner stages individual figures of a timeless fairytale character in vertical formats.

His figures stand steadfast on the ground. Their feet are depicted in profile, just like tin soldier’s or cut-out figure’s. Towering they stand on a narrow stage, for the most part filling all of the canvas.

Heiner shows timeless sublime figures in profile. Dignitaries such as the envoy or the forgotten prince, all seem to be swathed in festive garments. The figures of the past years may have been rather stiff and solemn, as if parading. His figures from 2010 however are extremely lively, like the envoys pushing forward. One of the largest figurative new paintings is “Green Warrior, Red Warrior”. It has a tremendous effect due to a large format and use of paint to achieve plasticity. This painting, in particular, strongly conveys the painter’s unusual force of eloquence. He knows how to compose opposites, working abstract and figurative at the same time. Sebastian Heiner’s paintings from the new series are both new and classical in their effect.

Performing has become an important part of Sebastian Heiner’s work in the last couple of years. Heiner, who can be described as a reflective scholar-painter, has never been afraid of painting in front of an audience. He didn’t mind being watched while painting in China’s museums and art institutions. The people present found it gripping and interesting, especially since Heiner did not paint with the conventional paint brush. He painted with everything that fell into his hands while he was in China, such as a broom or a fly swat.

When applying the latter utensil, Heiner achieves amazingly intensive structures and spacial qualities. Sometimes the artist pours the paint onto the canvas or rolls thick bulges of oil paint over it, using his bare hands. For a period Heiner included Chinese characters that he chose with his friends into his paintings. In his new works, these direct references to China have been relinquished allowing the imagination to greater experience the transfer of cultures through Heiner’s breathtaking painting.

Colmar Schulte-Goltz
kunst-raum essen schulte-goltz+noelte
Essen/Germany, January 2011
(Translation: Jessica Hodgkiss)