Drying oil paintings, including neon-colored Batman masks and landscapes, are my first impressions on entering Sebastian Herzau’s studio in Halle. Paint, paint, paint, in between organize art fairs and go to fairs to network – all that and his own family keep Sebastian’s stress at a moderate level.
1. Are you permanently thinking while you paint or is it more spontaneous?
Both. I have to think first because I can’t suddenly decide while painting that I would like to use a horizontal format after all. Everything else comes spontaneously, guided by chance and the question: “What are you going to turn it into now?” The lines and the overriding structure give the portrait depth. And that’s what it’s all about.
2. Portraits/faces have been an interest of yours since your studies, right? At what point did it become obvious to you that you could make a series out of them?
My original aim was the allure of trying out something new.
I’ve always been interested in the indistinct.
3. The exciting aspect of your series “The Great Below” is the veil over the faces – what does it express?
Actually, it expresses a lot – you don’t have to say too much about it. For one, it is unapproachable, for another, I bring out more details. I generally like duller color shades – they carry through the veil, which is not tangible. Even when you look at the artwork for half an hour and try to remember it afterward, you’re above all rewarded with a feeling, but not a distinct visual memory.
The emotional expression lingers in the memory, but not necessarily the painting itself.
The veil is there anyway and changes everything, but nonetheless, it is invisible. My feeling is that I can remember the faces in your paintings somewhat, but know at the same time: There was more. What do you think might be the effect of a portrait without this veil?
I can show you in this picture when I photographed an intermediate stage: The magic is missing for me. I have to keep working on it to show more than the realistic representation.
4. Do you find that painting should represent or change reality?
I like to play with the memories – is it a man or a woman? Is he/she sad or in a good mood? I can only contribute a small amount towards clarifying these questions; I don’t want to dictate anything. That would be too much for me. Through this blurriness, which is quite subtle, whereas the face beneath it is painted quite sharply, a moment arises between the moment.
Reality is what you make of it when you talk about it.
While I am painting a portrait, I experience my own story about the model, because I know all of the intermediate steps. I thus know much more than someone from outside. Altogether I alternate between different cycles of topics, i.e. from the landscapes to “The Great Below” to the Batman masks.
5. Would you call yourself a perfectionist?
My paintings mustn’t be too perfect – but a few things must be good: The right shade of color must sit in the right spot. It is important to keep at it and paint. And do that every day.
6. What effect do colors have for you – to illustrate and depict or to be symbolic?
The best shades of color are those that arise incidentally during the mixing process.
Naturally, I know how to place them properly, but I don’t add much symbolic effect. This light-blue background consists, for example, of numerous glazed layers, to produce exactly this color effect.
7. Can you recognize a (technical) difference between people who have studied painting and those who have come to painting via a different path?
Here it is not so much the technique because even students can’t necessarily paint. Many are simply too lazy. Learning to paint is simply a long process. When artists stand next to their work and can talk about it for a long time, then they have usually studied the subject (laughs). In your course of studies, you can freely try out different areas and exchange ideas with professors and colleagues.
Nobody teaches you to paint; you have to do it yourself.
It is a craft you learn through practice. It is also like an addiction – I also try to notice as much as possible. In all events, it must be authentic. What I can’t do myself I find particularly good. I react to things that move me. I have to talk about that. The time spent in the studio is important. You can also sit there for eight hours; the main thing is that you are there. You need your own drive and diligence. I have enormous respect for colleagues who really get something done!
8. Have you had a lot of criticism?
I have had good criticism from the right people. I have also quickly noticed that earlier some people knew more about my art and development than I did myself – where my art was still going.
9. Have you got an interesting anecdote about your artworks?
I remember a woman at an art fair who stood for two hours in front of an artwork of mine and she simply could not turn away from it, all the while her husband was looking everywhere for her. In the meantime, the painting is hanging in their house.
Translation: Karen Christenson
Many thanks for your time and for sharing with us how you see the creative process!
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