Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London
Sebastian Helling’s work appeals to something beyond the visual in his viewers; transforming shapes and lines into bursts of music, he creates works that embody the explosive rhythms of rock and metal. Percussive strokes of blue come crashing forwards like heavy drums, while elsewhere jewel-like colours are searing against lines criss-crossing in sharp tempo across the canvas as intense visual guitar riffs. Through a gritty mix of oil and spray paint, shapes and forms become heard rather than seen as they burst off of the wall in a string of power chords that take on strikingly expressionistic explorations of art making. His combination of graffiti-like strokes and abstract letters hover somewhere between a shape and a line, a brand new visual language that is ready to cross over to a new plane of audio-visual existence. He explores the idea of physical displacement, with elements and surfaces falling apart and smashing back together behind multiple layers of paint that obscure any easy reading of the work. This is a mixture that he refers to as a triage of “meaning, language and symbols.” As such, while the work itself is abstract, it still contains recognizable motifs. “Though an abstract idiom grows,” he says, “elementary symbols appear.
These layers of paint become in themselves a direct reflection of pounding physical movement. “My paintings are neither abstract nor figurative, neither gestural nor compositional,” he explains. “Layers of artistic languages overlap and deny each other. In the same spirit, my wish for communication (or anti-communication) is trapped within the relevance of the artwork.”What we are presented with, then, are explosive canvases with splashes of paint and text, sometimes sprayed on, at other times applied with a brush and then scraped and smeared directly with his fingers. While some works appear to be deceptively mute―large canvases of beige with stark blurs of colour―others are intensely saturated, chromatic chord progressions or proliferations of painterly drum fills that penetrate the walls of sound and observation. He brings about layer upon layer like lines in a verse, simultaneously obscuring and tantalizingly revealing a recognizable motif that can just be made out through elementary symbols and an abstract language of his own.
Helling builds, reduces, and then improves in his artistic practice a process of refinement and kinetic energy, both destructive and productive in a single breath. His numerous―and at times frantic―marks become an act of memory, of thoughts expunged onto canvas, with the visible force and built up energy of the brushstroke evident in the finished piece long after its completion. Helling constantly adds and subtracts to create paintings that waver unapologetically between positive and negative space. This tension between the positive and the negative allows him to focus his work on the final outcome, instead of clinging to a specific narrative or reference point. Instead, they are all embodiments of Helling’s constant tearing apart and building back together again, his working and reworking, an endless cycle that mirrors that of nature itself.