Aurelien Heinrich is an abstract expressionist artist who lives in Paris. His work www.aurelienheinrich.com is about mixed media in the truest sense; a combining of genres and cultures all make for a cool cultural mix. What inspires this young artist? Read on and find out …
MICHAEL: Hello Aurelien, Your work is great. I LOVE your abstract works. They look like a combination between drawing and painting. How do you describe them? What's the inspiration behind them?
AURELIEN: Hello Michael, I am really glad to have this conversation with you. Yes, my work has a main formal base that is abstract, since everything culture is related, it is mostly a play with concepts and ideas, whether the image depicts a cabbage or mental landscape. So my work has always been a play with different mediums, different graphical sources - be it some classical art reproduction, pieces of advertisement or personal material.
I combine it in a singular, hybrid-body - mixes that I love, when listening to some jazz, contemporary symphonic music or twisted electronic beats. This mix is pretty much or mostly a personal matter.
I am mixed race, half Middle Eastern, half European, so I had to throw myself into the art mix I was already involved with. I grew up as an adopted child, so I only have access so far to classical European education, though people met in my daily life thought I ought to be someone else.
I did many studies, art history in the School of the Louvre, French and Comparative Literature, International school background when I was a teenager and lately, Landscape Architecture at the National School of Versailles. I did enjoy these studious moments, but I was always more interested in what I could grab for myself, than completing the tasks I was requested. So I decided I would only use what I needed, make it my way and make some of my personal story through artistic material.
That's why in my 2013 works, one may watch some abstract layers and some figurative drawings. It's a combination of all the things I’ve been through, of all the things I learned by my own or during school practice.
These new works don't tell much about myself. I don't want to be autobiographical; who cares about my belly button anyway? But the concerns, the questions I've been facing are universal, anyone can ask oneself about identity (double, for instance), birth, especially when you don't know where you were born, adoption, sickness, death. How to appropriate another language, for instance, classical Arabic. That's why I twist Latin letters to be read from the right to the left, how to get another culture.
There is a lot at stake and some of the topics I am dealing with can be dark, so I try to make something more playful, with hand drawn figures, so that viewers can feel it a bit lighter at first sight. This, plus the fact that I grew up in France, where structuralism and conceptual art forms are king notions, make me lean toward not only intellectual focus, but eye pleasure also. So yeah, desiring singularity, I am addressing universal matters.
MICHAEL: Aurelien, this universality that you talk about is great. I definitely see it in your work; the different musical influences, the spicy mixing of cultures and ideas. However, the world seems too divided right now. At this point in history, we should understand our "oneness" on earth, but we don't. What's the problem?
AURELIEN: Let digress a bit. Let's turn back to antiquity or even before, when men were already violent, divided; when men where deciphering the world. First, because I use their symbols, their representations in my work, second, because as I just indicated, they were facing the same issues, even if on a smaller scale.
When one wants to talk about Homer, we can understand Homer as a collection of poets who contributed to the oral transmission and construction of what we nowadays know as the Odyssey. All put together, they can be fused into one big literature figure, that we represent, with a beard, being quite old and blind. But if you look at Sophocles's work, in Oedipus, the one that is telling the hero what is going to happen is Tiresias, who is also blind. So blind people in these times and subsequent representations are those who don't see the world per se, but they are those with the ability to look into themselves, inventing worlds, with Gods and other mysterious creatures. Their world is no longer limited to physical, touchable elements. They had the wish to go beyond appearances and build universal figures, and singular worlds.
Now we can find this creativity more recently, in a Disney's cartoon: “The Roadrunner.” The bird runs on top of a cliff, goes straight to the edge, continues his speed run in the air and his opponent does the same, but when the coyote realizes he's not running anymore on solid ground, he collapses into the canyon. Being a watcher, this situation defying the gravity is normal. It is one of the expected stunts because it is a codified world that we can project ourselves in, for pleasure content. Has anyone seen this happening out there, today in our divided world? I guess not or someone like Elon Musk has the solution, who knows, but so far, no one has.
Still, any kid who's been watching the Roadrunner, anyone who has been reading the Iliad and the Odyssey knows about those runs against gravity, and about sirens or cyclops. So this is a way to understand our "oneness" on earth. That's how and why I choose to work as a painter, because we still can represent inner/outer worlds in our mind, being artists or viewers, without the need to consider our temporal world as an end to itself. Note that it doesn't imply any spirituality or any religious consideration, it mostly implies our imagination, some mind tricks to project oneself into contemporary representations.
Creating receptacles equally filled with fairy creatures from ancient times or contemporary elements, is creating a space where myths can evolve, autonomously. I feel really small, humbled by past times, legends, art history, but still, I firmly think that away from temporal matters, art can question, toy with this huge sum of concepts and representation, with those matters that have not changed since the dawn of time: birth, life, death sickness, comprehension of our body or our place in the universe, etc.
But it is on an individual scale that this "oneness" in a permanently divided world can happen. And I am applying my best to play and invite viewers to play with those representations and have their personal journey through massively collective reading of these questions.
MICHAEL: So many people today are suspicious of contemporary art. They think it's bullcrap. What do you think about this?
AURELIEN: Yes, there is clearly a situation here. From what I understand, art market and art history are two different things. Some may buy in the blink of an eye a contemporary artwork that won't be valuable in centuries but who cares when it is a matter of speculation? It's a free market, nothing wrong here. As long as it can be resold for the same value.
There are very inspiring, talented and recognized creators nowadays, they add richness, content in their work. They have both richness and value. Some others tend to have an over-scaled value, with less richness, but equal or more value. The art market isn't art history and value isn't directly comparable to richness of a work.
The good thing about this is that when either being an artist or a viewer, as long as you have your senses and your brain all up and running, ready for curiosity to deliver its pleasures, you should not be suspicious. If one feels and understands something strong enough to feed his thoughts whenever he wishes, it is a deliberate choice then, to buy or just enjoy a work of art.
There are many things in this market to buy from, to look after and to enjoy. People can criticize and vote with their money. If they are fed up with some artworks, they can always ignore it. But it is hard to criticize when irony and subversion become mainstream. You may feel outdated in a minute, old fashioned or time stuck. But it is only fashion that will be replaced. Fashion is not singular, it doesn't match with everyone's views. When there is personal involvement , it's another story, part of art history, as well as any fashion is part of art history, too, but not being the main thing.
Time trims things up in a solid way. From what's left, we can understand the matters at stake and the fashions of an era, of a past period.
A contemporary artwork from a living artist has already outsold a past artist piece, in auctions. But it is up to the collectors to tell what they'd like for a change and it takes time to educate one's eyes. There is room for both, value and richness, and plenty of choice already. We cannot be party and judges of our own tastes and their incarnations, only time does, so maybe we should just move forward, consciously, as much as we can.
MICHAEL: Do you listen to music, specifically jazz, while you paint? How does music inspire and influence you?
AURELIEN: Yeah, I love jazz, and the spirit of jazz, taking bits and pieces, and obviously matching it sometimes awkwardly, being tricky with links and intentions. I always work surrounded by music, I am a digger. I enjoy discovering lots of new stuff every day. It broadens my mind. Some pieces I discover from cd collections, some within the live sets on my cds, are fantastic opportunities to be carried away and to think according to the frequencies from the melodies. Like many kids from the 90's, I am a big fan of drum n bass, techno and electronic distortions/experiments of any kind. Dancing and singing and painting jam. Then maybe the ghost or a new type of spontaneity of beauty can occur.
MICHAEL: How does Paris influence your work? What kind of energy does that city have?
AURELIEN: Well, it would have been a different story, four years ago, when we virtually met. Now, Paris still has the same flaws I used to point at, but the way that I live in this city has changed. I have travelled, seen other ways of life and I mostly enjoy the small neighborhoods. I happen to take lots of walks, sometimes at night, with a camera, catching little stuff, small graffiti, meaningful, but only for someone else. Some other times, I free ride downhill some streets and boulevards with my skateboard. It makes the city more appreciable.
There is always a new piece of architecture, hidden but meaningful, just there around you. I still look at sprayed letters and other murals, but it's like a circle of egos, pretty vain and vacant most of the time.
I work with music so the music I listen to takes me sometimes to the country of the artist I am listening to, Anouar Brahem takes me somewhere between my district, and a garden in Lebanon and I enjoy that moment. So I am not completely in Paris.
I enjoy the art life here. There is a lot to do, but I still cannot find a group of artists that make a synergy. I wish meeting artists were a little easier, but men are being just men sometimes, and I suppose, so am I. I like to travel. So maybe one day I won't be in Paris anymore. Who knows? But the place I might live in then will have some Paris brought attitudes.
MICHAEL: Finally Aurelien, what does being an artist mean to you? What does art mean in the world? Why is art important?
AURELIEN: What does art mean in the world? I'd say for some, a value, a
richness, something completely useless, therefore essential. It is our print in time, it is about creativity, genesis. Art is an opportunity to talk to other people. I really see it as a conversation between the viewer and the artwork, and the artist behind it. Like open hands. It is relating people, just like this wonderful conversation we have just had together. And I thank you for that.
MICHAEL: Thanks Aurelien. Stay cool in Paris!
Check out Aurelien Heinrich at www.aurelienheinrich.com.