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Markus Bertsch



The element water is a key motif in Jochen Hein’s painterly oeuvre. Although the artist was initially a landscape painter, since 2003 his works have been unimaginable without the sea. His first intense preoccupation with the maritime motif of seascapes,1 which emerged in Dutch 17th century painting as an autonomous genre, resulted directly in his opus magnum, the three-piece painting “Nordsee” (North Sea), with its huge scale of 1.45 x 5.40 meters. From a slightly elevated vantage point, the viewer looks at a wide expanse of sea breaking on the shore, the towering waves filling almost the whole of the picture. The horizon has been moved so far into the upper section of the picture that all that remains of the monochrome, powder-blue sky is a thin, concluding strip. While in the immediate foreground the surge and flow of the water is visualized, the rough sea with its wave crests towers up from the middle distance, extending to the far background. The appearance of the water makes it probable that the motif is a stormy sea near to a coast. However, the lack of more specific information leaves the viewers ambiguous with view to the nature of their vantage point.2 The large painting does not have an introductory foreground. We find ourselves confronted directly and abruptly with the dynamic, powerfully choppy, unfathomable masses of water. The special impact of the three-part painting is not only thanks to its exceptional size, but also its panoramic format. Here, the word panorama describes an all-encompassing view, based on the Greek pan (all) and horama (view). However, in order to open up the work for a holistic view, we must take a few steps back. Yet the eyes have difficulty holding this tension and lose them­-selves in the details of the surging, frothing masses of water. They are positively torn away by the dynamic flow of the opposing, frequently overlapping movements. The remarkably intense impact of the painting is due to Hein’s subtle lighting control. The multitude of light reflexes on the surface of the water are caused by the rays of the sun outside the pictorial space. This intensifies the wandering gaze and prevents the eye from coming to rest. Another phenomena of perception should be mentioned here. If we move closer to the painting, the sections that from a distance appear small and delicately painted, continuously dissolve into almost informal-looking structures. Finally, they become tangible as particles of color, solidified on the rough texture of the canvas. A particularly surprising element is how many different colored pigments make up the overall tone of the picture. If we step back further, we can ob­serve the principle of optical blending, meaning that when the eye reaches a particular distance, the colored hues once again begin to approximate the white, gray and blue hues that make up the dominant basic tone of the picture. The artist himself has described this unusual visual experience as follows: “The tension between the spatial impact of the pictures when viewed from a distance and their mundane material composition when seen from close up, reflects the tension that lies between expectation and reality.”3 In addition to the sophisticated painterly technique, as has already been expounded, the special impact of this three-part painting results from its unusual format. This plays a decisive role in giving the viewer a feeling of being overwhelmed by the maritime natural phenomenon portrayed. This form of reception is also in line with the intention of the artist, who comments on this question of scale as follows: “The desire of humans to enter into contact with something greater than themselves is the impetus for my pictures and the perpetual motor for my work.”4 Without a doubt, we are dealing here with a visual experience that opens up a new scope of experience for the recipients, allowing them, having looked at the work for some time, to not only seek comparison with the imaginary natural impression but also to inquire into the laws and the scope of the medium of the “picture” – so that art can do itself justice and free itself from being simply reduced to its function of portrayal.

The painting is given an additional level of meaning by Hein’s decision to divide the overall composition among three canvases of identical size. Although this should be viewed as a continuous panorama, the seams are still visible. Due to its tripartite structure, Hein’s composition can also be described as a triptych. Consciously presented in this way, the picture can also be associated with other levels, for example a sacred one. After all, the triptych had fulfilled its predestined role as an altarpiece in Christian art for centuries. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a secularization of this tripartite form of picture could be observed, which is now occupied by other themes and genres. In view of the work “Nordsee” (North Sea), it would also be conceivable to draw on compositions by Gerhard Richter, who will be referred to later in this text and who in the 1970s also used the format of the triptych and other multipart paintings to portray landscapes.5 Against the background of these two lines of tradition, could Hein’s paintings perhaps be seascapes with a sacred element? In the center panel, there where the Christian triptychs show the most holy in the form of God the Father, Christ and the Virgin Mary, or specific images of saints, in the work “Nordsee” (North Sea) it is here that the areas with the highest luminosity can be found as the light shines from the background out into the immediate foreground, also filling the two side panels. The emanation of the divine light? Not according to the artist’s conception. “God is not at home,” says Hein succinctly, himself an avowed atheist.6 This, on the other hand, is a reference to the concept of an “Altar without God”, which creates a link to the Modernist triptychs. So what about the potential links to romantic approaches in art? Although in his own statements Hein has not conceded that this era or art form is of any influential importance to his work, art critics and reviewers of his work have constantly enquired about possible connections. Certainly, in Romanticism the landscape genre in particular became a medium for transporting religious sentiments. One should briefly mention the famous critique made in 1809 by the chamberlain Friedrich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdohr (1757–1822), published in “Zeitschrift für die elegante Welt” (Magazine for the Elegant World). Referring to Caspar David Friedrich’s (1774–1840) painting “Das Kreuz im Gebirge” (The Cross in the Mountains), also commonly known as “Tetschener Altar”, the text culminated in the following sentence: “In fact, it is truly presumptuous when landscape painting seeks to sneak into the churches and creep onto altars.”7 On the other hand – and this characterizes the preoccupation with Hein’s “Nordsee” (North Sea) – the final interpretation is left to viewers and their subjective intuition. This is added to by the open structure of the composition, which can be found in many of Hein’s seascapes and correlates to an equally open scope for interpretation. 

Yet it is not only in his magnum opus “Nordsee” (North Sea) that Hein has portrayed the dynamic nature of the sea with a heavy swell. Several smaller paintings bring the viewer somewhat closer to the occurrence (fig.01). Albeit hovering slightly above the surging waves, the viewer is directly involved in the natural spectacle, due to the structure of the picture, calculated to be more of a fragment view, as well as the repeated lack of an introductory, connective foreground. The horizon, which is obscured by the white crests of waves, remains visible, whereas the sky seems to be reduced to a small strip on the upper edge of the picture, as is often the case in Hein’s pictures. The area of transition between the elements air and water in the painting “Schweres Wetter I” (Severe Weather I) from 2011 can also at the most be supposed (fig. p. 49). Here, the force of nature blazes its trail, the storm lashes up the waves and the seething foam fills the upper edge of the painting – one searches in vain for the horizon as orientation. With these seascapes conceived like fragmentary views, which expose the viewer quite abruptly to the foaming waves, Hein at the same time inscribes himself to a particular type of seascape, which gradually developed from the 19th century onwards. In contrast to the well-established tradition of this genre, the respective depictions do not show ships but instead merely confront us with the sea. Due to the explicit reduction of significant visual elements to the sea and the sky, as well as the abstinence from narrative moments, the viewers, once they have immersed themselves in this visual universe, are faced with the endless expanse of ocean and suddenly become aware of their sense of abandonment and loneliness. As a result, a very specific range of emotional qualities is related to the perception of the picture. The painting “Meereseinsamkeit” (The Loneliness of the Sea) (fig. 02) by the Danish maritime painter Anton Melbye (1818–1875) marks an important era in the establishment of this form of representation, and the work is significant for the genre because it follows on from a “Seestück ohne Schiff” (seascape without a ship).8 The picture shows nothing but the sea and the sky. Only two seagulls circle above the waves. Dark clouds push their way into the pictorial space from the right and correspond with the bleak and repelling sea, while the strip of light above the horizon creates a hopeful nuance. Also conceived as fragmentary views, these pictures do not offer the viewer a safe vantage point like Melbye does, as Hein has interchanged the proportions of the sky and the sea. Aside from the triptych “Nordsee” (North Sea), which has the theme of breaking waves, the remaining collection of seascapes by Jochen Hein are determined by more peaceful values of expression. With a view to the compositional structure, Hein follows a specific formula: Almost all of these pictures show the sea as a section view and present it using an open structure. In doing so, the sky section, if it can be seen at all, remains reduced to a small strip on the upper edge of the picture, as in the aforementioned paintings. All of the pictures show one and the same object: the surface of the sea, exposed to the different weather conditions. In particular as a result of this, the appearance of a series is created, something that is supported by the picture titles, while because the composition remains the same, the works are able to show the broad spectrum of the appearance of the element “water” even more emphatically. Hein is also searching for transitory and ephemeral phenomena here. For example, in some of the seascapes he has created the painterly impression that raindrops are falling on the surface of the sea (fig. p. 33, 43). As a result, the light blue color of the water is given sprinkles of a darker blue, which give the picture an irregular structure and, together with the gentle movement of the waves, also a rhythm. If the viewers know that it is a water surface, they can also comprehend the depth that leads to a consolidation of forms in the upper section of the picture. If they encounter the work completely unbiased, without a text or the title, they might even read it as an abstract arrangement, whose special impact results from the horizontal brushstrokes. If Hein refrains from elaborating specific sections in detail, as in “Meeresoberfläche LIII” (Sea Surface LIII) for example, one could even talk of an oscillation, from the viewer’s perspective, between an abstract and a figurative reading. In this context, it is interesting to observe that one mode always reverts to the other and that there are no transitional stages in the process of viewing – each mode of perception excludes the other. We either see a gentle wave movement on the surface, which is then lost in the upper section of the picture, or we are looking at pure, abstract painting. On yet another level, these differences in perception can be described as opposites if we counteract the two-dimensional mode of viewing (abstract) with the three-dimensional (figurative). For the artist, the surface is not only the motif but also the metaphor of his art, as can be seen here in his seascapes. Hein explicates this in an interview: “The surface is a central element because for me all mysteries are inscribed in the surface of the world. All expectations are aroused and disappointed by this. I cannot perceive a behind, the invisible. To recreate this surface, to charge it, to inscribe in it the mysteries that surround us – this is the essence of my work.”9 

With regard to one particular kind of seascape by Hein, which can be found in large numbers in this exhibition, the question to what extent there is a figurative reference need not be posed at all. The viewer immediately sees that the motif here is seascape horizons, which have an immense extension of depth. The special fascination of these pictures comes from the virtuoso placing of the light reflexes on the water surface, which evoke a shimmering and flickering in the eye of the viewers, giving their perception a special quality (fig. p. 35, 37, 39, 41). Caused by the presence of the glistening reflected light on the different pictorial planes, the view wanders continuously into the depth of the picture until it reaches the horizon, which in these paintings is much more clearly shown than in those previously mentioned and which in connection with the strip of sky above, marks a seemingly two-dimensional closure in the upper edge of the picture. This phenomenon can be seen after a closer look at the work “Meeresoberfläche LIX” (Sea Surface LIX), created in 2012 (fig. p. 41). From a vantage point just a few meters above the surface of the water, the viewer perceives the horizontal, dark and light blue structures, which result from the movement of the water and which lose their contrast more and more, beginning in the middle ground of the picture. The moment-like nature of the depiction is caused in particular by the light reflexes, which intensify the contrast between light and dark in the foreground, dominate the impact of the picture from the middle ground onwards and become more dense the closer they get to the horizon. In this way, the light reflexes play a decisive role in the cumulative effect of the painting. What is interesting in this context is that their positioning on the surface of the water is not due, down to the very last detail, to the rational act of the artist. In order to create the light reflexes, Hein initially laid the canvas on the floor of the studio and covered it with paint using a centrifugal movement of the hand with the brush. Subject to the laws of gravity, the paint makes its way in the direction of the picture carrier. The exact position of the individual splatters of paint, which are transformed into points of light in the overall composition, can hence no longer be controlled by the artist – as a result, coincidence is involved in the process of creating the picture. With this approach, Hein demonstrates his commitment to the artistic technique of the drip paintings, which was developed in the 1940s and whose prominent representatives included Jackson Pollock in particular. In this process, the paint is dripped or poured onto the canvas directly from the paintbrush or out of vessels. While in Hein’s paintings, in the foreground and middle ground the splatters have not been worked on, in the area of the horizon he has smoothed them somewhat with the brush and has in this way created a cohesive, lighter area. As could already be seen in the three-part painting “Nordsee” (North Sea), in the work “Meeresoberfläche LIX” (Sea Surface LIX), the brightest areas, in other words those with the greatest luminosity, are spread across the vertical central axis. As a result, the gaze is given a certain hold, however it is in no way inhibited in its urge to unfold, as the light reflexes radiate out to the side edges. However, in contrast to “Nordsee” (North Sea), here, due to the fact that there is no dynamic within the picture, the mode of perception, which moves constantly back and forth, and the subsequent sectioning of the gaze, is averted. Instead, the gaze is sweeping, though this does not prevent it from partially sinking into the shimmering surface of the sea. The quality of the painting as a whole, in other words the overall impression, can be perceived in the mode of holistic vision. It gains an elemental dimension. Such a dimension is already created by the encounter of “air” and “water” on the line of the horizon. The horizon is already metaphorically charged as a boundary and an area of transition. In Hein’s painting, its emblematic quality is also made tangible by the light reflexes. The viewers’ gaze moves across the tranquil, smooth mirror of the sea towards the horizon, and they may contemplate the spaciousness and the space “behind” it, whatever form this might take, causing them to turn their attention inwards. Due to the open arrangement of the picture, this reflective structure is very much encouraged. Because of the parallel composition in all of the pictures, the viewing subject experiences the horizon and the sea in the sense of a “confrontative” perspective, as a direct counterpart. A further important determination of the horizon, which can be derived from what has been described so far, consists of dispensing with our conception of the vanishing point of infinity. By clearly showing the horizon between the monochrome, seemingly two-dimensional, strip of sky and the distant reflexes on the surface of the sea, Hein’s painting is exemplary in this case, too. This creates another link to German Romanticism, in which the search for the infinite was one of the key motifs. The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) appropriated art with the task of allowing the infinite to appear in the finite, while the Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) defined religion as the “sense of and taste for the infinite.”10 Furthermore, around the 18th century, this perspective characterized both the aesthetic experience of nature and the perception of images – in particular with relation to the sea. The pastor, university lecturer and poet Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten (1758–1818), active on the island of Rügen and in Greifs-
wald, always had the sea in mind and made its overwhelming impact the theme of one of his famous seashore sermons:

“The nature that surrounds us is simple yet sublime. Our shores are beautifully curved strongholds. Our bays are secluded and intimate, our foothills provide panoramic views into the vastness [...]. No other natural view fulfills the eye and the heart in such a way as the sight of the free expanse of the sea. When we look across its immeasurable, ani­mated surface, we are seized by the shiver of immenseness [...], and we become giddy in the face of the power and greatness of the Creator.”11 Kosegarten is fully aware of the elementary quality of the sea and its immeasur­ableness, which he, in a similar way to the previously described “Meeresoberflächen” (Sea Surfaces) by Jochen Hein, is also able to access through the modus of the sweeping vision. By “taking a glance,” he accurately verbalizes the visual experience of the un­fathom­able distance between his own viewpoint and the distant horizon, which affects him and which describes the “infinite,” experienced in this way, as the con­sequence of the overpowering concept of the “power and greatness of the Creator.” While Jochen Hein draws on the experience of nature, transposing this, however, into a work of art, in order to highlight the independence of both fields of experience and to promote the autonomy of the picture, Kosegarten’s aesthetic experience of nature emanates directly from his awareness of the great­-ness and the existence of God. At the same time, the arts have also sought solutions, in order to do justice to the impression that nature has an elementary impact. There is no other romantic landscape painting capable of doing this to a greater extent than “Mönch am Meer” (Monk by the Sea) created by Caspar David Friedrich (fig. 03) in 1808/09. There are not many works from the beginning of the 19th century that are comparable to this picture in terms of their compositional radicalness, elementary strength and reductive quality. Apart from the figure of the monk and some seagulls, the composition comprises only of sand, sea and sky, while the objects change between a two-dimensional appearance and their location within the space. The lack of any kind of framing within the picture itself, which is linked to the impression of the fragmentary view being forced, also has a positively unsettling effect. The viewer seeks perspective reference points in vain. The renunciation of the established patterns of composition is very evident.12 The radical pictorial language was immediately registered by some of the contemporary reviewers of that time. One of the particularly striking statements was made by Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811), in which he compared the confounding visual experience with the feeling “as if the eyelids had been cut off.”13 Using this physical metaphor for the unusual visual experience, Kleist draws attention to the tendency to break free of limits inherent in the picture, which at the same time stands for the excessive demands made of the gaze. The consolidation to just a few significant visual elements elevates the impact of the picture to an elementary level, confronting both the viewers and the figure of the monk in the picture with the feeling of being overcome by God’s creation of nature and of their own diminutiveness in the face of this. Due to the above-mentioned special features, this key romantic work is also open to being perceived holistically, just as we were able to attest with view to Jochen Hein’s seascape horizons. However, while in the case of Friedrich the painting is dominated by the sky and the horizon does not appear until the lower fifth of the composition, Hein’s compositions are dictated by the sea and allow the sky little scope to unfold. In addition, the impact of Hein’s work “Meeresoberfläche LIX” (Sea Surface LIX) is determined to a much greater extent by the section showing the horizon than Friedrich’s “Mönch am Meer” (Monk by the Sea), as the dark clouds, low in the sky, provide little contrast to the dark surface of the sea.

However, with the sepia drawing “Meer mit aufgehender Sonne” (Sea with Rising Sun), produced around 1826, a further work by Caspar David Friedrich can be cited, which in terms of composition and structure not only comes surprisingly close to Hein’s “Meeresoberflächen” (Sea Surfaces), but also to other seascapes from the 19th and 20th century, which we will also touch upon in this essay (fig. 04). The drawing can be seen in the context of a four-part cycle, in which Friedrich developed the organic occurrences via different levels of meaning and in which the alternation of the times of day merged with that of the seasons and the ages. Friedrich’s seascape horizon covers, together with two further drawings which visualize the subject of death, the salvation-history aspect of this cycle.14 The artist shows the beginning of creation according to the First Book of Moses (Genesis). The spirit of God hovers – almost physically visible – above the surface of the sea that is moved by the waves and at the same time creates the impression of an endless primeval ocean extending as far as the horizon in the profundity of the picture. The rays of the sun rising over the sea, their regular segments visible, fill the sky, which takes up almost half of the pictorial space. Due to the unusual structure of the picture, the viewer is directly confronted with this creation scenario. In view of this drawing, Kleist could also have been inspired to the statement about the “cut-off eyelids” cited above: there is no strip in the foreground to give the gaze any kind of hold or to mediate between the reality of the viewer and that of the picture. There is no decorative figure that provides initial orientation within the picture. On the other hand, there is no side framing and the depiction forces itself as a detail on the viewer. We are almost faced with a compositional culmination of Friedrich’s “Mönch am Meer” (Monk by the Sea), albeit in a much smaller format. However, the artist was simply consistent – in this early phase of the six working days of creation portrayed by the artist, neither the earth nor human beings existed.15

We will conclude by drawing on this consideration once again in a different form with the “Seascapes” by Hiroshi Sugimoto, which have a similar structure – the view of the sea as a simulated visualization of a pre-civilizing gaze. Traveling back and forth along the timeline, or stopping the course of time, unhinging it: this bold notion leads us back to Jochen Hein’s visual universes. In an interview, the artist had expressed what was at least to some extent the illusionary desire to create pictures that would still move people or that already have moved people and in this context he commented: “I would like to stop time, to fall out of time.”16 This by all means complies with Hein’s paintings. Reduced to the elementary essence, his works – in particular the seascapes – seldom tell of a civilizing stage of development. Everything seems possible – at least as a thought experiment. Furthermore, the formal and structural parallels between Friedrich’s “Genesis” drawing and Hein’s “Meeresoberflächen” (Sea Surfaces), which are characterized by the glistening light reflexes, are clearly evident here. The exquisite emptiness, vastness and depth, the boundlessness, the sense of openness in the direction of the horizon, the feeling of loneliness, abandonment, of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the nature that appears in the work of art. On the level of content, the two works are admittedly worlds apart and the gap between the different eras is very evident. Friedrich’s drawing and the associated cycle fit a picture that is well-founded in Christianity and has a teleological orientation. Hein’s works point in exactly the opposite direction, however they allow the individual viewers enough scope for their own interpretations. This, on the other hand, links him to other artists who have embraced the seascapes. In the years around 1970, for example, Gerhard Richter succeeded in making this genre acceptable again for Modernism while at the same time causing quite some confusion among art critics. From 1969 onwards, Richter created an extensive group of works, consisting of 12 paintings, often with a quadratic format. In the middle of the 1970s, he again dealt with the theme of the seascape and took up the thread once more at the end of the 1990s. Richter also adhered to a particular form of composition for the majority of the seascapes. From an elevated, imaginary viewpoint, we look out across the sea, which extends into the depth of the pictorial space and which often has a heavily clouded sky above it, taking up a substantial part of the pictorial space. This compositional formula also applies to the painting created in 1969 and entitled “Seestück (bewölkt)” (Seascape (cloudy)) (fig. 05). The rainy ambience with the heavy, damp air can be felt almost physically in front of this picture. Surf accentuates the stormy surface of the sea, while the low cloud formations lead the gaze to the horizon, which emerges in a haptic way in some sections. Despite the different relationships between the sky and the sea, there are clear parallels between Richter’s seascapes and Jochen Hein’s sea surfaces. In addition to the horizon, aligned parallel to the viewer, both artists abstain from a side framing, hence emphasizing the fragmentary quality of their compositions. Furthermore, both of them open up the gaze to scenarios that are consistently free of human figures. As a result, their works possess qualities that we could also observe in Caspar David Friedrich’s drawing “Meer mit aufgehender Sonne” (Sea with Rising Sun). Richter and Friedrich – in the context of Richter’s references to romantic art, this constellation has been brought up again and again by art critics and art-historical researchers. Without a doubt, diverse references to his art can also be found in the groundbreaking visual language of the romantic artist from Dresden. In 1971, Klaus Honnef described Richter’s landscapes in his review of the large Richter exhibition in Kunstverein Düsseldorf the same year as being “like perfect new editions of the blessed Caspar David Friedrich,” while to him the paintings appeared “too beautiful, too romantic, too sticky sweet.”17 Further, similar comments followed in these years. However, in particular due to their ostensible soft­ness, the seascapes created around 1970 did not forgo a provocative potential. With regard to this, Richter’s own statements convey a diffuse, ambivalent picture. In 1973, in an interview with Irmeline Lebeer, he claimed to open up “a historical connection to Romanticism” in his work, while at the same time he indicated his distance to it: “What I miss is the intellectual principles on which romantic painting was based. We no longer perceive the ‘omnipresence of God in nature.’ For us, everything is empty. And yet these paintings are still there and appeal to us. We still love, use and need them.”18 

”For us, everything is empty” – we can also use this characterization to refer to the seascapes by Richter and Hein. “Empty” can also be read as meaning open for other, subjective interpretations. Both artists respond to the sense of “emptiness” with an open picture structure that relates to and involves the viewers but at the same time does not seek to steer them in any specific direction. The fact that Richter was in fact suspicious of too strong a localization in the Romantic tradition is clear from a statement made in 1986, which at the same time shows the ambiguity that he associated with his landscape paintings: “My landscapes not only appear beautiful, romantic or classical like lost paradises, but above all dishonest (even though I was not always able to find the means to show exactly this), and with dishonest I mean the glorification with which we perceive nature, nature which, in all its manifestations, is always against us because it knows neither meaning, nor mercy, nor compassion, because it knows nothing, is completely spiritless, is the complete opposite of us, absolutely inhuman.”19 

The work process on which Richter based his seascapes continues to be illustrative. His own photographs formed the starting point for his views of the sea, however the individual shots do not show the exact constellation of the pictures. Just as Richter’s “Atlas” can be taken from his collection of material, his visual archive, the photographic montages served as the basis of the individual seascapes, in each of which he combined a cloudy sky with a sea surface that did not belong to it. Now we are also able perceive, when we stand in front of these paintings, that precisely at the seam where the horizon is, the transitions do not quite seem to fit. In their relation to reality, which is exposed as a construct of its illusory nature, Richter’s visual worlds prove to be extremely deceptive. The artist seeks to confound the viewers and in this way inspire them to think about the conditionality of the picture, to inspire them to explore the status of the painting. As a result, Richter’s art also proved to be an assault on any viewers who might want to make themselves too comfortable in front of the artwork. Taken to extremes, one might say that this was the artist’s intention with the work “Seestück” (Sea-Sea) (fig. 06) from 1970. While we initially perceive a threateningly tumultuous cloudy sky, a real mountain of clouds above a sea that is heavy as lead, the consistent structure of the sky and water formations confronts us with the fact that we are in fact dealing with a reflection. What initially appears to be the sky, turns out to be the surface of the sea, rotated 180°. Inter­estingly, Richter’s principle of the photographic montage can already be found in the work of the French photographic pioneer Gustave Le Gray (1820–1884) shortly after the middle of the 19th century – even using one and the same object! In 1855, Le Gray began to take photographs of maritime cloud formations and sea horizons on the coast of Normandy, often from the same viewpoint. In Le Gray’s work the horizontal line also serves as the seam along which he joined the two negatives. The two prints that were produced, which are among the earliest photomontages, smooth the line of intersection, creating the impression that the photograph has captured a particularly atmospheric moment of a natural phenomenon. Richter pursued a similar goal with his seascape paintings, using the assembled photographs as a starting point. In both cases the impression is deceptive. Hence, reviewers again and again described Le Gray’s groundbreaking photomontages as something they are not: photographs of nature that have been created in one and the same moment.20 While in Le Gray’s photograph entitled “Le vapeur” – the steamboat – the bursts of steam, as a symbol of the technical progress in comparison to the three-master behind, cloud the line of the horizon (fig. 07), the photograph “Le soleil couronné” shows neither a ship nor persons but instead the sun in a cloudy sky, whose bundle of rays shine on the surface of the sea, creating intense light reflexes, which radiate out from the horizon line into the immediate foreground (fig. 08). In turn, the line of light reflexes set in the middle of the picture are reminiscent of Jochen Hein’s sea surfaces. A direct connection can be made between Le Gray’s sea horizon and the “Seascapes”, the famous sea photographs by the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, which celebrate, in black-and-white, the dialogue between the sky and the sea and the way in which they come together on the horizon line, which is razor-sharp yet at the same time obscured to create a particular ambience. Sugimoto traveled the world’s oceans with his camera and one exemplary work is the photograph “Mediterranean Sea – Crete” (fig. 09). The impression of tranquillity and almost contemplative calm is increased by the fact that the horizon line divides the composition in the center and the areas of sky and sea are characterized by an arrangement of dark and light that is rich in contrast yet at the same time well-balanced. That which is portrayed seems to be reduced to the essentials, to its essence. The intentions that Sugimoto associated with his “Seascapes”, also revolve around the complex of a fictive journey into the past. While life in the countryside, and as a result the landscape itself, has changed immensely over the last millennia, the appearance of the sky and the sea has to a large extent remained the same. There is no evidence of the progression of time as both elementary zones have a positively timeless quality. What we can see in the “Seascapes” resembles that which our ancestors would have seen. With his photographs, Sugimoto seeks to contemplate on such a simulation of the gaze, a kind of “primeval view,” which is activated by our imagination. What is frequently a consistent central division into a sky section and a sea section, which can be observed in the “Seascapes”, subsequently leads us back to Jochen Hein’s work. In a current, small-format series he has depicted exactly these proportions in an upright format (fig. 10, 11). And although Hein has not abstained from using color, his pictures do indeed show a division into two parts – a dark area of sea and a brighter section of sky – that is also evident in Sugimoto’s work. At least at first glance. However, if we look more closely we are able to ascertain that the figurative references on these paintings have been developed to different degrees. In the case of some of the pictures, one would scarcely be able to define a specific theme. It is solely the power of projection that allows us to identify all the works of this series as seascapes when they are hung on the wall – we have been caught in the trap, have succumbed to our capacity to associate and also our ability to project. Hence, Hein’s initially seemingly inconspicuous series turns out to be a subtle comment on the way our visual perception works. At the same time the artist explores both poles with the concepts of “abstract” and “figurative,” on which his multifaceted and very varied preoccupation with the genre of seascapes have been based from the very beginning. 

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