March 27th, 2020

By Veronica Vale

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then it’s no wonder that articulating the meaning and artistic style of a painting poses such a challenge. Words often fail to properly express the profound, intuitive expression of the artist. As linguistic creatures, it’s in our nature to crave greater definition and identification, and so we obstinately attempt to assign words to pure abstraction. Any admirer of the visual artists well understands the fruitlessness of this endeavor, and yet, for the purpose of deepening our understanding of process, of meaning, and of style, we continue to try. Now, just imagine trying to articulate this artistic abstraction in your second language. Well, we asked German mixed media artist Stefan Heyer to do just that.

Coming from a working-class background, Stefan Heyer’s journey to a career in the arts was not born of privilege, but of passion. He taught himself to paint in private, taking various jobs along the way, covertly honing his craft since the early 80s. He confesses it took him quite some time to develop his style, but for good reason. “You need time to develop your language,” he explains, expressing apprehension towards artists who offer up their art to the public prematurely, or before understanding their own voice and style.

“I paint inner landscapes. I want to express the feeling of a landscape, not copy it.”

Working with mixed media was never a conscious decision for Heyer. Instead, mixed media seemed to find him, revealing itself to be “the form [that he] can best express [himself] in, and nothing more.” When asked about the media he applies to his paintings, he hesitates to subscribe to what he believes is a worldwide “fetishism of materials,” preferring to highlight the depth of art rather than its surface. Nevertheless, he offers us a glimpse into his process: 

Inspired by various found photos (often industrial, architectural, or figurative in nature), Heyer transfers these images to his canvas, as a way of “bringing the world into [his] own universe.” His abstract style helps him to portray what he refers to as “inner landscapes.” He elaborates, “I want to express the feeling of a landscape, not copy one […] there’s no magic in that.” Painting then from memory, Heyer layers paint, pencil marks, and various media over his found images, obscuring them and rendering them scarcely recognizable.

“I want to pull at a universal string and give birth to a sound a lot of people can connect to.”

This obscurity aligns with Heyer’s distaste for overly referential work, favoring enigmatic work that must be appreciated on a more subliminal level. “I don’t want to make it too comfortable,” he expounds, “A painting should remain a mystery. If the messages are too easy and too punchy, it gets boring fast.” Fittingly, he describes his process as a combination of the intuitive physicality of “highly energetic trance-like strokes and mark makings” and a more cerebral “highly conscientious process.” It’s this masterful blend of spontaneity and premeditation that give Heyer’s abstract pieces their intriguing complexity.

While Heyer prefers his painting’s messages to remain subjective mysteries for his viewers to contemplate, he does name a few inspirations for his work, namely pop culture, political issues, and postmodern alienation. His fascination with architecture and history also permeates his work, acting as “fragments from the past and present floating though [his paintings], like ghosts and echoes from another time and dimension.” These juxtaposed themes of past and present, figurative and man-made, landscape and architecture, etc. invite viewers to indulge in a deeper form of contemplation, “to reach areas of the subconsciousness which can’t be explained, but are there nonetheless.” 

Regardless if viewers are drawn to his works for the deep thought and reflection they provoke or merely for their aesthetic beauty, Heyer is grateful to reach people however he can. “[My paintings] are like my kids,” he concludes, “I want them to experience the world, to send signals out there, […] to pull at a universal string and give birth to a sound a lot of people can connect to, to give positive vibes even while confronted with fundamental problems we, as human beings, have.” So however Heyer’s paintings speak to you, we at Gallery MAR, are delighted to send along the signal. 

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Stefan Heyer for answering our questions all the way from Hamburg, Germany.