Bernd Heinrich


By Peter Pinson OAM

 Bernd Heinrich -  midway through his studies at the Art Academy in Augsburg - visited the important international art exhibition Documenta 3 in Kassel, West Germany. That year, Documenta’s Artistic Director Werner Haftmann selected artists who generally reflected his notion of “abstraction as a world language”. They included Horst Antes, Pierre Alechinsky, Antoni Clave, Andre Masson, Kurt Schwitters, Antoni Tapies and Joseph Beuys. Heinrich later recalled that the exhibition “opened (his) eyes to modern art, and to abstract expressionism”. The influence of these artists on the young Heinrich was reinforced by the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, which he subsequently encountered in European galleries.

Consequently, when Bernd Heinrich arrived in Australia in 1970 (settling here in 1974), his work was soundly rooted in the abstract and expressionist tendencies of post-war European and American painting. By 1970, abstract expressionism had long expired as the central force in Sydney painting, and the front of formal colour abstractionists which had succeeded abstract expressionism was itself fragmenting into other styles and concerns. By 1970, new technologies and fresh genres of art practice (including performance and documentation) were emerging. The viability of painting itself was called into question in some theorist circles. Bernd Heinrich became one of a group of Australian artists who emerged in the 1970s (Ann Thomson was another) who demonstrated the continuing vitality of painting, and especially painting that drew upon expressionist and abstract traditions.  


Bernd Heinrich’s paintings are complex and multi-layered. Their meanings are subtle and evasive, even inscrutable. He has described his painting as dealing with “metaphor, unexplained things, emotional associations, and with poetry”. For all their athletic, abstract painterliness, Heinrich's paintings retain references to the landscape, or to the figure, or to humanity’s accoutrements. He sets these references to objects, torsos, popular culture, and symbols into scatological play against each other. Sometimes the images are accompanied by notations in a very elegant but not-quite-decipherable hand - like a 19th century botanist’s scientific observations or the clinical notes of a pre-World War 1 Middle-European psychiatrist. These passages of suave script contrast with the nervous, tentative, irritable, or furious linear scribbling that is a recurrent device. This combination of painting, drawing, and diaristic-notations is shared with another immigrant painter, John Wolseley (who settled in Australia at almost precisely the same time as Heinrich).  

The various images seem to intrigue or conspire with or against one another. Their connections don’t seem contrived, but at the same time they are not logical. They have the loose or brittle relationships that might derive from free associations: sometimes unfathomable, sometimes wry, sometimes disturbing. Heinrich's early paintings explored surrealist imagery, and he absorbed the lessons of surrealism well, especially the disturbing power of the enigma and the compelling impact of the inexplicable. 

Many of Heinrich’s paintings are developed around a sequence of five to eight horizontal lines. These lines initially referred to the bar lines on a page of music. The lines serve to establish of a syntax to the picture, a kind of meter. They establish a structure which links the disparate forms, images, and marks. 

At the same time, there is a strong sense of landscape in Heinrich’s paintings.  Partly this is due to the motifs alluding obliquely to the incidents and objects and landforms one might encounter in the bush or the park. Partly it is due to his use of passages of paint that evoke the earth - sometimes coarse and scarred, sometimes as smooth and enticing as a savanna glistening beneath a film of morning dew. 

But ultimately Heinrich’s “landscapes” do not present the wide, brown topography of our national geography. They probe the dishevelled topography of our personal subconscious.                             




                                                                          by Imogen Corlette


                                                                          One of the most striking and intriguing elements of the new 

                                                                          landscape work being produced in Australia at the moment

                                                                          in the shift towards treating the canvas as the landscape 

                                                                          rather than using it simply to represent or depict. In this way,

                                                                          the artist is re-cast as ' toiler the earth' as opposed to its renderer.

                                                                          The application of paint, bracken, metal, glazes, found objects

                                                                          etc the two dimensional canvas therefore represents 

                                                                          construction in its own right.

                                                                          In these works, the Australian landscape is reborn, not as a

                                                                          colonial outpost, surveyor's plot, picturesque sign of leisure/work,

                                                                          ownership, but as a conceptual and aesthetic "playground"

                                                                          for the artist's imagination. Bernd is one such artist, whose

                                                                          work are, quintessentially, contemporary Australian landscape,

                                                                          with a look that is simultaneously haunted, scarred, entrancing,

                                                                          lucid and resonating.


                                                                          The conceptual base of Bernd's work is highly esoteric. 

                                                                          The sense of secrecy in the images is strong, with the landscape

                                                                          abstracted to the point where depth, focus and form are almost,

                                                                          obscured - and where the earth appears to harbor secrets and

                                                                          symbols which point outwards to realms beyond the canvas.

                                                                          This ghostly aesthetic has undertones of Fred Williams and

                                                                          Arthur Boyd whose work has also featured an unsettling sense

                                                                          of the mysterious in Australian landscape and outback.

                                                                          Bernd's gestural process of constructing the images also bears

                                                                          a somewhat tortured likeness to the more abstract works of

                                                                          Brett Whiteley.


                                                                          Bernd's works are both highly physical (in the complex and

                                                                          rigorous nature of their construction) and highly esoteric.

                                                                          The result is a body of work which makes a well grounded and

                                                                          stimulating contribution to both "Australian Landscape" as an

                                                                          art historical genre, and to "Contemporary Landscape"

                                                                          as a vital element of current international artistic practice.





                                                                           ARTIST STATEMENT

                                                                          My paintings are “Playgrounds – Landscapes,"

                                                                          an inner experience of freedom and passion not restricted by 

                                                                          conventions or boundaries.

                                                                          In my journey as an artist I am inspired to create from the

                                                                          inside out to express my fascination and passion in combining 

                                                                          my inner world with reality. 


                                                                         “Playgrounds in time and space” are my re-occurring themes.

                                                                          Divided and separated by space, lines, images, symbols, forms      

                                                                          and shapes – composed like a sheet of music in the harmony

                                                                          of a visual symphony – to reveal my inner world.

                                                                          My canvases are often heavily textured, deeply scarred and 

                                                                          evoke the feeling of being sculptured.

                                                                          Often I use found objects, architectural symbols,

                                                                          silkscreen images or find it necessary to include written

                                                                          statements or pieces of poetry to underline or human presence.