ABOUT A HORSE AND A BIRD
January 14, 2021 - March 18, 2022
In About a Horse and a Bird, Sebastian Maas (*1984) entices the viewer with surreal compositions and intense colours. Immediately, the eye begins to search for a suitable entry point into the fragmented events that develop unimpeded in the pictorial space. The alleged protagonists – horse and bird – announced in the title are quickly found. Unmistakable is the stately centaur, with his neatly laid-back hair and bare chest in an elegant jacket, despite his averted gaze. In the middle of a cornfield, under a bright blue sky, a sexually fluid Satyr character plays an antic flute. The rapt figure is accompanied by a group of dancing women who presumably come from a completely different reality. In addition, the exhibition presents several portraits of different formats in which the artist's facial features are reflected in (traditionally phrased) female bodies. Although at first glance associations with topoi and symbols from classical mythology as well as the world of fairy tales and fables arise, the figures in About a Horse and A Bird may hardly fit into a linear narrative: The yellow canary is dead, the blond horse does not seem to proclaim any groundbreaking morals and the centaur looks as tense as it does pensive in the direction of a thrashing mother of God.
Re-combination and alternating contexts
As in many of Maas' works, de-contextualised elements from the everyday flood of images come together in the exhibition and in turn encounter historical image objects and quotations. Like a collage, the artist transfers his visual fragments into new contexts of space and meaning (re-contextualisation). Thus, Maas not only quotes or implies statements immanent to the work in his compositions but appropriates what is depicted through his specific modifications.
In Sweet Dreams (2021) the Madonna punishes the boy Jesus, unperturbed by the gaze of the centaur, who in turn is unsure of what to make of the spectacle in front of him. The centaur encounters a second pictorial level here, which is not only a quotation – and thus opening another temporal level – but also appears slightly altered in contrast to the original painting by Max Ernst (The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, 1926), which Sebastian Maas quotes. The three witnesses that Ernst originally placed in the background of his painting are missing. Neither the viewers nor the agitated Madonna may have noticed this yet, however, this decision changes the original context of the work fundamentally. Followingly, the centaur looks at and possibly re-evaluates the quoted image within the overarching pictorial reality, while the audience tries to classify all the actors in the scene all at once.
In the same painting a contemporary image quotation is leaning again the portrayal of the punishing Madonna. Captured on a semi-transparent reddish-purple background is a group of sleeping soldiers. Their peaceful sight marks a clear contrast to the pictorial theme right next to them. Moreover, the question arises whether the centaur is looking directly in the direction of the beating or whether his attention is not directed towards to the lying soldier’s sexual organ, which has been overpainted in orange?
It is not up to the various depicted characters to function as guiding figures leading us through the complex pictorial spaces. They themselves encounter alternating realities and merely for a short moment they can feel secure about their own identity.
Further, Sebastian Maas’ paintings neither expect to trigger specific emotions nor a singular reaction from the viewers. All beings and objects, on whatever level of reality they may be, are observers as well as observed within the multiverse. They differentiate themselves from one another and classify one another – just as the audience ultimately contemplates on what it sees, which it in turns seeks to contextualise and categorise. When the audience approaches Maas’ constructed scenes from a contemporary perspective, a correspondingly alternative context emerges depending on the direction of the gaze and the way we read it. A line can guide the eye and yet ultimately lead to nothingness – or to the horizon?
However, there are also moments in About a Horse and a Bird in which a more traditional reading is suggested. In Birdie (2021) Maas confronts us with vanitas when a dull yellow house bird in rigor mortis lies as a messenger of fate between Alexander Kanoldt's mirrored semi-nude (Semi-nude II, 1926) opposite a very young woman in designer goods.
Despite the fairy-tale and mythical encounters between objects and figures, Maas does not strive for a deeper connection in his works but allows the individual actors to work in their own space by means of strong contrast as an aesthetic device. This applies not only to his aesthetically accomplished, figurative portrayals but also to paint, beyond its role as a mere means. Prominently and with visible brushstrokes, the paint sits on the 'canvas' of truck tarpaulin. For Maas, paint as a material is a present actor in its own right and is equal to the ostensible depicted figures.
Identification and transformation
If we let our eyes glide through the entire exhibition space, we perceive Sebastian Maas' intensive examination of the strong human need to categorise and classify the environment. This behaviour is enriched with our desire to match every external impulse with our inner self. This also involves our fundamental need for identification. The artist exposes the established traditional viewing regimes and evaluation schemes as they have been and are represented by art and cultural history. Especially in the post-digital present, people are in a state of constant visual re-impressions that produce alternative visual experiences. Thus, in the self-portraitseries the artist himself gazes back from the canvas into the present. His face is transferred into various female figures.
In About a Horse and a Bird Sebastian Maas undertakes – with his mythical half-beings, or with his figures that often partly merge into colour surfaces – the attempt to avoid the underlying urge to distinctively schematise everything and to transform the body from an assessable unity into wholeness.
January 14, 2022 - March 18, 2022
Türkenstr. 32, 80335 Munich