Movement and Space
Thomas Wolfgang Kuhn
Courtesy: Galerie Voss
As an artistic medium the physical process of movement is associated above all with dance and perhaps with performance and acrobatics. Over seventy years after the action painting of Jackson Pollock, painting as witness to this performative act of creating art has been somewhat forgotten. Nonetheless, movement clearly plays a considerable role in the paintings of Daniel Heil.
While concentrated lines reduced in color have now come to define the space in the surface of Heil’s paintings, in 2015 one still found shimmering configurations of brushstrokes that flowed into one another, which arose from the artist observing the moving surface of water. Here the movement of the arms guiding the brush, there observation in constant flow—an interweaving of dynamics whose result is presented to viewers in a way that is as concrete as it is symbolic.
In its reduced form, this painting situated on the border to drawing becomes a trace of action before the canvas. In its format, the canvas itself records in height and width the space available for movement in front of it. Painting as a sort of self-portrait of the painting body in motion: stretching and bending, swaying toward the left and then the right. The action of creating the painting becomes visible, and the often closed formation, or formation in the process of closing, conveys a choreography of movement. A second group of paintings resembles an elastic band that begins at the top center of the painting, moves back and forth, and then tapers off, becoming narrower toward the bottom. Each is a unique and one-time movement—the direct application of paint to the picture medium, with no second attempt: frugal, but intensive.
In some of the paintings an overlapping of movement, a second line, a second or third referential layer of time and pigment, can be observed. At times canvas or paper, the intrinsic color of the material or a coat of primer, paint and charcoal form layers and space on the surface, begin to oscillate between abstraction and figuration, almost like a picture puzzle, in which the planar line, the broad stroke, becomes a body floating in space. And, hence, as the reenactment of the first line in the second becomes a kind of echo, the motif of repetition is itself consequently spun from painting to painting. At the same time, no picture is the same; none is identical to another, like a river that is never the same even if entered from the same place on the riverbank.
This also applies to art as a whole, which comprises more than the ongoing expansion of its means and possibilities, but which also lives from plumbing individual expression repeatedly and anew. The possibilities of performative painting were not exhausted in any past episode in the history of art. The form of vital experience in the act of painting, from the Fauves to the Expressionists, to Art Informel and action painting, is not so much a technique with a specific visual appearance as it is concrete existence visualized in painting, which appears over time.
The outwardly visible, increasing development of abstraction since the time of the Impressionists does not stand in contradiction to nature and its depiction. Nature remains present and is further enhanced by the painterly mediation on its perception and reproduction, while having become detached from the refined techniques of the illusionism established in the Renaissance. Over the course of history, the act of painting—at least for painters—has itself become an act of nature and naturalness. Here one finds the idea of an unaffected art as it found its beginning in English Romanticism, and later, at various locales, gave rise to the search for a primitive, primal force.
This primal quality obtains its persuasive power in the work of Daniel Heil, where the contemporariness of his expression has been organically connected with the figurative since the early years of his artistic career as a result of an ongoing engagement with the creative process. This ontogenetic basis of his expression, which is identified formally in the context of our culture as art, is a phenomenon for a younger generation of artists that does not simply make use of the mining of art history and advanced philosophical discourse with strategic cleverness, but also searches in our contemporaneity for a mode of expression that is contemporary, authentic and free from cynicism.
Those familiar with Japanese calligraphy might recall the reduced constellations of the ink painting of Zen Buddhism. Daniel Heil’s painting shares with this art the seemingly meditative nature of its creation and reception. From the contact of Western artists with East Asian calligraphy and philosophy in the 1940s arose a type of painting that expanded on the prevailing geometric calculus of abstraction. This fertilization, which extended from Art Informel to Color Field painting, also influenced conceptual and minimal art. Even though minimal art, with its radical serenity of form, rejected spiritual interpretation, it is nonetheless difficult to posit no spiritual or sensual concentration that might also be experienced, at least from the perspective of perceptual psychology. In this sense, Heil’s painting also requires no esoteric super-elevation for its extremely concrete materiality to have, in some way, a spiritual effect—as outlined by Wassily Kandinsky, one of the forbears of abstract painting.
The painterly substance of Heil’s work generally gives rise to its own particular sensuousness. The transition from dense pigmentation to translucid passages of color, the penetration and breaking up of charcoal particles create an epidermal structure that achieves an opulence through the limitations of its means, communicated synaesthetically as a landscape that can be experienced haptically. This impression is further intensified when it remains possible to experience the canvas as a textile picture medium as a whole. The smooth and the rough, the fine and the coarse are physical characteristics of this overall impression that become accessible in awareness and emotion.
This concentration is, however, not rigid purism. It is not only the fact that random traces of the painting process find their way into the composition and are not negated; the use of color in the watercolors and the very diverse experimentation in the small-format drawings also characterize Heil’s work as being essentially open. Individual, new and highly complex compositions seem to contradict the simple, seemingly meditative pictures. At first glance, these paintings are linked to the surface-filling allover of the fragmentarily captured water surfaces. But more intensively than in those works, here the experience of the performative process explored in the reduced-minimalistic pictures from 2016 to 2017 becomes tangible.