Here’s another good thing, Martin Heine’s show of new work Reverse Iconographies at the Melody Smith Gallery on Oats Street !
It opens on Friday evening 18th of October. This is Martin Heine in the Kurb gallery, 312a William Street where he has had a studio for most of the last ten years. He is checking out the state of the new works, getting them ready to be shown at Oats Street.
We were waiting for the works to dry! I took these photos as a reminder of the material and intellectual struggle that always accompanies the emergence of any really valuable art from the mess of delusions, pretensions, ambitions, badly motivated criticism and mediocre rewards that get between artist and ‘audience’ (aka collectors?).
Martin appears as at once a work ‘person’ and an ironic joke. He poses (badly) as a jovial, international cultural superstar, constructed by a voracious media for the satisfaction of people who can’t bear the truth that art takes many years to get right and, in the meantime, the artist cannot live like them.Yet, for no good reason, it is always the audience that needs, and demands, reassurance and support.
The artist threatens, the artist embarrasses, but must learn to do so with the same restraint as a well-bred circus clown. Those pseudo-artists who spend their days (and nights) offering to do whatever suits the nervous passing trade might as well strangle their work and themselves at birth. It can never stand up in its own right. No amount of badly re-deployed theory, or anodyne aesthetics can render art secondary or redundant.
Art is always present before the fact, not as some accomplice to a quiet suburban massacre of the senses by good taste and the massed battalions of smartphones.
Good artists, really good artists, have no lifestyle, they just have a life. Art is at least a full time job.I know artists who can barely convince the ATO that the income they declare will allow them enough food to survive.
After 20 years of hard work Martin is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable and sophisticated artists I know, currently working in Perth. He has a broad based practice including shows and performances in Perth, Munich, Japan, Manila, Singapore and, recently, Belgrade where he performed as below speaking the truth to paint, the ersatz audience that has no fear of communication. Note that his words, those little vibrations in the air, shake the paint with direct comprehension.
For what it is worth, despite all investment of verbiage to the contrary, the work of all good and great artists will fill a gap, a precise absence in the current cultural framework. It will be part of an ever-changing mosaic, not the next episode in the soap opera of the art market. For the last half century at least a single mosaic has encompassed all options.
It is not logic, appropriation or narrative that drives artistic innovation but an absolute commitment to resolving dilemmas, solving problems inherent to the current state of art as defined by artist and audience acting as one. That is why it is possible to write about Martin’s work in terms of his relationship to other artists and their difficulties and achievement as I did in my catalogue essay for Reversed Iconographies, which follows below.
My Best Performances: New Painting by Martin Heine
Martin Heine has developed his ‘Reversed Iconographies’ for over two decades. He works for the same irreversible, existential presence in them, that he achieves, moment by moment, in his performances. As he says ‘Reversed Iconographies are my best Performances’.
His most successful actions engage with the latent, mercurial existence of images and ideas in liquid paint, as in Mediocre Shunga (2004) or the recent Function no 7, in 3 movements, Belgrade, 2013, in which he spoke through a paint-filled suitcase, containing his head and torso, as if he were totally embedded in the endless moment of painting.
Heine admires the surrealist Max Ernst for similar qualities in his work, and for the observation that he ‘painted with one eye looking inwards and one out onto nature’. Heine is a highly skilled silkscreen printmaker. Unlike orthodox painting, screenprinting, as with performance produces an irreversible sensation, in the moment, and as a trace, a transfer back to front. Heine appears to follow Robert Rauschenberg’s ambition ‘to act between life and art’. The Reversed Iconographies, however, are far more ambitious. They are always after something new, the work of art as irreducible nature, not an unreliable substitute for reality.
They began with the sensation of looking at sunlit traffic through a closed fly screen door. The earliest were made on ruined fly screens. The most recent make use of one silkscreen mesh, of different weaves and gauges, to achieve extraordinary subtle colour and texture. Heine’s underlying existential insight remains unchanged. By working ‘from the back of the canvas’, by pushing the paint and the image which always exists within it, through the grid, as if it were liquid light, one can subvert every convention and assumption of western painting, including the relation of artist and audience into a single indissoluble existential viewpoint, a presence without perspective.
The smaller works shown here, such as Abstract Reverse Study (INV 245) or NY Full Moon (INV 247) offer an uncomplicated point of entry to the unique immediacy of Heine’s work. Most first time viewers feel an overwhelming desire to touch their surfaces. In Abstract Reverse Study, the orange red islet at the centre-left radiates the sensation of velvet, a seductive pelt of live colour and texture. The elegant troughs of blue-grey that run between each colour emphasise the organic quality of each patch of modulated colour and line, like warm sunlight and soft shadow moving across a landscape. NY Full Moon extends this sensation to a specific time and place but you will search in vain for a moon.
It is important to grasp that Heine’s work may contain images, but they are never its subject. In Old Man and Dog Sniffing (INV 229), It is possible to detect the outline of an animal moving across the modulated red and black but it is the overall shape-shifting of the image drives the painting.
These works are all about the intense wonder of looking and seeing, not decorative charm. Heine selects his images carefully to reflect a liberating humanism, he observes:
compositions are chosen to emphasis this humanism, a desire to look for perfect lines, negate a conflict between an image and the perfect combination, i.e. lines and colour in relation to the challenging abstractor or representational erotic topics.
At one level Contemporary Machine (INV 236) appears as an extended commentary on the mechanical eroticism that fascinated Duchamp. In fact, Heine’s method redirects the energy of the original image towards elegant wonder.
Far from being a progressive revelation, conventional ‘front-on’ painting is better regarded as ‘painting out the world’, an attempt to block vision with a crude static approximation of events. In Heine’s work, image and form constantly emerge through the picture plane as an absolutely congruent icon.
Heine begins with a digital image or images, often carefully chosen from the infinite variety of the internet, occasionally from his own photos, such those he made during our time in Japan last year. He takes each image through a time consuming process in his computer, a free flowing series of improvised algorithms that recast it as a structure of black edges and coloured shapes. Then he painfully transcribes the linear structure on to the back of the silkscreen mesh. In his recent paintings this structure is extremely subtle, a finely meshed connective tissue between vision and existence.
This is a process of liberation. Heine aims to negate the hopeless dullness of the digital image by discovering, recovering and, perhaps, recreating the humanity within it. It resembles the ‘decalcomanie’ through which Max Ernst generated compelling imagery from paint blotches. The gap between life and art opens and closes and is finely sutured forever as the Reversed Iconography develops.
Once he has completed the transcription, Heine can begin pushing paint through the mesh into the image. This process requires that one start with the ‘top’ colour and work ‘up’ to the background, the opposite of conventional painting. For these new works he used the finest possible oil paint. It produces a remarkably hyper-tactile surface, an eventful landscape of textures, broken colours and incidents.
This can be seen in Schloss Neue Schwanstein, disintegration (INV 241), a reworking of a photo of the kitchen in the castle built by mad King Ludwig to indulge his Wagnerian fantasies. The black and grey image of the solid fuel stove and kitchen implements does not refer to Wagner. It hangs in a complex tracery of overlaid red lines and small shapes. Between the two, an erotic cage-like form, in broad red curves, strengthens and unifies the composition. The hard edged rhetoric of the stove is absorbed into the overall sensual presence of the painting.
In his largest, most ambitious works such as Urban Philosophy, Part II, (INV 240) Heine extends the use of overlapping outlines and imagery into meta-commentary on the evolution of the work and its banal complex closure.
Urban Philosophy, Part II, began with a photograph of a car body compressed and distorted slightly by a collision, the rear door forced inwards and half open. Heine began with this disturbing image, he doubled it across the painting. He imposed a white outline of a couple in intercourse on the left image and repeated it higher up in green outline on the right. This doubling reduces the image to a stamp or an often repeated diagram of a constellation. A cage of thick blue lines is superimposed over the whole image. They repeat forms from the erotic diagram.
Ever since Rauschenberg, many artists have used identical repeated imagery to de-centre, to play games with representation. As the open (but closed) car doors suggest Heine has a special take on this strategy. In his Death and Disaster series Warhol multiplied his silkscreen images to point to the paradox of a newspaper photo of a fatal car crash as representation unredeemed by redemption, to a progressive loss of both nature and art, the bankruptcy of even the most material metaphysics. This issue is non-existent for Heine. In the effort towards a liberated humanism, achieved by collapsing the gap between life and art, his Reversed Icons have dispensed with banal representation.
Redemption is neither here nor there. Once art becomes a natural fact, liberty is inevitable.
Text and photos of Martin Heine © David Bromfield, Artworks © Martin Heine