German artist Sebastian Heiner arrived in Beijing in April 2004 and began to immerse himself in this foreign culture. As a painter, he naturally chooses to express his understanding of this culture through painting. There is certain looseness and freedom has its preconditons, since it has arisen from a specific locality. To be more exact, he’s set himself free in his work by re-discovering himself in another culture. He’s created a new series of works based on such instinct.

After visiting several of China’s famous historicaland cultural sites, Sebastian started to think about finding a studio and getting some work done. As luck would have it, the artist Liu Ye was able to lend him a studio situated in Xiaotangshan, on the outskirts of Beijing. So Sebastian began to work as an artist in Beijing, an in this respect he is different to many other foreign artists who visit China.

His paintings are charged with passion and mysterious religious nature and they reveal a kind of open contest between figurative and abstract art forms. In “Heat” and “Beijing Night Fever” which he did in Beijing, it’s evident that Sebastian wasn’t restrained by any rules or preset logics. He was also able to unreservedly maintain the unity of the process and the result, and steer clear of the repetitive nature of painting. Chance effects and unknown events came across each other in his paintings. Every means of the medium was employed. The musical and athletic quality of his work was the outcome of the artist being in constant motion using the brushes, wooden board and his elbows. The movements appearing on his paintings indicated the movements of the artist’s body.

The cultural context of Beijing has aroused new dynamism within Sebastian so that he no longer relies solely on icons from German culture. Instead his mixed up illusory personal psychological states, culture and history, as well as religious symbolism and searched astutely for original, mobile, distinctive materials and inspirations from Oriental culture. His shifting and blending is one way that leads to a kind of liberation of consciousness. In this sense, the opennness of Sebastian’s paintings has originated not only from the stimulation of a foreign culture, bur also from his poetic muse, his uninhibited choice of every possibility, his preference for mysteriousness and his ability, to merge and refer to his own and the other’s cultures. He’s drawn on the abstraction of fonts, lines and movements in Chinese calligraphy, which has in turn prompted him to take it further uninhibitedly. His spontaneous and open attitude is also manifest in his collaboration with Zhu Di. His paintings have demonstrated his vigorous absorption and inegration of Oriental aesthetic abstraction.

In Sebastian’s large paintings, we are to discover that his “collaboration” with Zhu Di, a young Beijinger, has enabled his work to generate a relation between “self” and “the other” so that the “self” can be free of the setback of painting and be liberated ¨C the very purpose for him to invite Zhu Di for this partnership lied in a desire to modify the definition of painting and extend the possibilities of this medium. It was an interactive process among subjective parties and to transform the meaning of writing into something abstract. The process and result of the other(Zhu Di) writing Tang and Song poetry overlapped with the process of the painter (Sebastian) covering Zhu’s writings with paint over and over again to bring out the purpose of his work. I think this is one of Sebastian’s coincidental encounters in China. The “sense if image” and abstraction of Chinese calligraphy was very inspiring for him. He integrated this kind of unfamiliar and distant cultural elements directly into abstract painting and completed the propositon of painting through a process of “negation”.

A new language arose in between the “intentional” and the “unintentional” and a transformation from “with significance” to an abstract form “without significance”. In essence, his concept stressed re-identifying the connection between content and form and the transformation from personal abstract aesthetics to artistic conception in the process of “collaboratin” and “interactin” with the other.

His painting “Sea of Change” is an outstanding example of how the artist has captured the very spirit of abstract expression. It reveals the passion and impulse inside the painter. It is a metaphor for the turbulent and boundless sea. Another painting, entiled “Drawn to the City” is an abstract revelation of the dynamism and uncertainty of urban expansion through solid and earnest strokes. He appears to be a “Baccus-esque” type of painter, inventing a whole new zealous world of art,. His art has come directly from the “natural” life itself and openly released a primitve “force”, which strives to propel its color, strokes, space end composition towards the “nature above nature” and the “purity above purity” and thus he’s reached a level of artistic creation characterized by nearly pure painting and complete natural aesthetics. He pays special attention to the depiction of pure colors. Not only is he in control of the purity, brightness and smoothness of colors, he has also incorporated the primitive, simple spirit and potential of anture from his “pure” and “primitive” works so that he was able to accentuates the forcefulness, depth and profundity of color in visual effect, initiate indefinite changes of diverse colors, and demonstrate the expressiveness of changes. His paintings have both carried on the opera-like revolving character typical of Germans and yielded a sense of forebearing and solid aesthetics, full of German solemnity and sobiety.

Sebastian and Zhu Di carried on working in this way, going back and forth each week between thr uproar of Beijing and the peaceful countryside, for four whole months.

Painter Sebastian is like a brilliant magician. He tactfully grasps the sensitivity of lines and the same time, portrays a musical sensation more vigorous than colors. It can be said that his paintings contain a certain uninhibited liberty. For Sebastian, th process of painting is one of physical movement. The body plays the role of the bridge. He doesn’t treat the body simply as the exterior “tool”. It is a carrier of awareness and emotion, desires and soul. We feel through our body. Therefore, when it comes to the body and painting, painting can intnsively expose the sensation of physical movements. This kind of pleasant sensation is completed in the mingling, transition, overlapping,writing and expressing among beautiful, musical, lyrical and sensual colors and lines and extended to indefinite variations as well as layered and orderly structures.

Sebastian’s paintings are ich in Christian “mythological” implications. They represent his sensitivity towards colors. They bear individual, divergent, and sujective understanding of aesthetics in Chinese “Zen”. They represent the course of development that unite “unconscious” movement with “conscious” control. This is a process of self-liberation and self-experience. Within such an unsettled cultural frame, the painter constantly compares and refers to both cultures and has developed a fresh and poetic artistic style through cross-reference, translation and becoming. Sebastian’s language in painting is succinct, pure and simple, and indicative of his abstract artistic style – a free and carefree one that unites strength, music and free flow.

Dr. Huang Du
Curator and Art Critic
Beijing, 2004