For Bernard Heslin, art is a lifetime performance or a ‘life-in-the-project’, as Boris Groys coined the terms. Before form and colour, icon and narrative, or simply what one can see on a canvas, his painting is what one cannot see: the creation itself, as a non-linear, yet continuous, interrogative process about its limits, its revelations, its failures. Instinctive act, construction, accident? Or all in all, a sum of ideas and gestures melted in the movement of the pigment on the canvas? For Heslin the answer is even more complex: art as breath and self-contextualization.
Basically, his painting is a confluence of plastic material and immaterial structures, with the female human figure as a recurrent axis. Employing an iconography without solemnity, the visual discourse is aggressive, anti-aesthetic, and full of expressionistic energies, like a breach into reality. The artist scans its present cover by resorting to ancient beliefs and esoteric rites, in order to reveal the immutable invisible behind the shade of ever-changing obviousness. After the ethereal order follows the drift, the subterranean and the visceral tumult of human passions, a narrative written in a primitive language, reminiscent of a “once in a time” that connects, mythically, the past with the present.
It is a world made of vivid colours and sharp graphics, in which the look has the appearance of death and the breath is detached from the body. The figures are sketched laconically, with horrific facial expressions modelled by angular outlines, painful grins, and staring eyes. The woman is necessarily sacrificed, amputated, and beheaded in order to re-establish the balance of the double and, thus, the balance of the world. The waiting is supported by voids of colour, with no centre, no depth, and no limits. Everything is tense and direct, anti-heroic, sometime almost grotesque, as the quotidian is, yet full of poetry. For it is still hope, as some titles taken from Sylvia Plath’s and Louis MacNeice’s poems suggest. And even if it has been said many times that the narrative kills the painting, Heslin’s work proves it is not true, as he succeeds in overcoming the crisis between abstractness and figurativeness, by a permanent transfer of meaning between conceptual, emotional and pictorial traits.
As a consequence, on a multi-layered reading of Bernard Heslin’s painting, one can discover an artist who is impulsive, and somewhere, in the background, a different one, self-reflexive and hypersensitive. The inquietude provoked by his works betrays the anxiety of a prisoner or of a person under siege, who’s waiting for the “white” moment, the revelation moment. The essence of his visual discourse resides not in a joyous narrative of spectacular encounters or events, but in the thrilling story of an alienated, split and depersonalised human being looking for its “aura”, for its natural equilibrium.
Glossing diverse neglected cultural references and using imagination as an exercise of memory, he seeks to restore what the art of the 21st century tends to deny: the presence of divinity in the tangible world, through the ineffable unity of opposites. As Sartre put it: “Hell is other people”. Image as representation and (self)-presentation; art as appeal to reality and as deliberate detour from it.