Sebastian Biskup @ 7Hours Haus 19 Review

Television commercials and portrait painting are brought side by side in Sebastian Biskup’s solo exhibition at 7Hours Haus 19. This unlikely pairing has been given a similar systematic treatment, and the result is a body of work that is aesthetically and conceptually cohesive.

The acrylic paintings consist of transparent overlapping layers of color. It is apparent that the clearly defined shapes and the unusual colors are not chosen at random, but it may not be obvious upon first glance that these beautiful paintings are a result of a precise systematic process. All of the paintings in the show are based on famous portraits by early and modern masters (ranging from the Rococo Boucher to the Cubist Picasso). The original image is scanned and divided into averaged forms based on the elements of the painting (for example one form includes the outline form of the subject’s hair, another form is in place of the status symbol). The next step in this process is the averaging of color within the boundaries of each form within the original painting. The results of this reduction of a range of colors are the unique, murky colors in Biskup’s paintings; this self-generating color system produces new colors that are not used in the original. The end products are ghosts of paintings and portraits past.

<Sebastian Biskup talking about his work, installation view, 2012 (photo by Bill Dietz)>

Television commercials have been fed into a similar system as the portrait paintings to create the animated works displayed as a projection and on a monitor. The starting point for these works are television stills taken at the moment when the text with the company being advertised appears at the end of the commercial. Biskup uses a similar color and form generating process, breaking the image down into the elements and taking the average color of each component. The animation of these forms is also out of the artist’s control, and is subjected to the workings of the Flash animation program. The work on the monitor brings the animation back to its starting point, the television screen. The projected animation links the time-based work to the paintings, since the projected light has a similar effect as the transparent layers of color.

In the paintings there are moments where the layers don’t quite overlap, resulting in holes in the paintings where what is underneath (either raw canvas or a single layer) is revealed. This rupture breaks the illusion of the space of the painting, helping the viewer to understand the surface in a different manner. In the case of the animations, we are accustomed to perceiving two-dimensional moving images as spatial, in three dimensions. There are moments in the animations where the colors of the forms are barely distinguishable and a disorientating shift of foreground and background will occur as the forms merge, like the holes in the painting, destroying the illusion. Biskup has set the parameters for the system, and the outcomes are beyond his control. He has withdrawn from his own aesthetic point of view, but since the originals have already been through a rigorous process of aestheticization, the results are indirectly aestheticized.

<Sebastian Biskup, oT (Ernst_1926), 2011, Acryl auf Leinwand, 130x196 cm>

The systematic process used to create the paintings and the animations are acts of translation. But why is this translation necessary? Biskup is concerned with physiological and psychological perception, specifically how we are accustomed to accepting perceptual illusions, therefore cheating ourselves into not seeing beyond what is presented. These works provide a critique of how we are used to seeing by breaking these illusions so people will see from a more original point of view. The objective is obviously not to compare the new paintings with the originals or the animations with the commercials, but rather to allow these products of systematic treatment to help us see differently.

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