MAN ON CANVAS – A Look Into Sebastian Bieniek’s Latest Series

by JC Gonzo

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The multi-faceted German artist, filmmaker, author Sebastian Bieniek has been operating prolifically for nearly two decades now. His work often lies in an indefinable space, partly photographic, sculptural, or performative. In his latest set of photographs, “Man On Canvas,” Bieniek features individuals’ limbs forcefully jammed through blank canvases. The series of unusual portraits frame disembodied hands, feet and arms in a wide-shot that provides spacial context; “the surrounding is part of the plan,” he states. By the simple use of two components and the expectations attached – a blank canvas, a human – the humorous and literal nature of “Man on Canvas” succeeds.

“Identity matters, each of them is telling a story,” explains Bieniek, concerning the subjects involved. “It’s really hard to say if they are artists or not. It depends on the definition of art, but I would say yes, they are artists.” He rethinks the portrait; visage is de-emphasized while focus is drawn to the lack or presence of personal affects – watches, sleeves, shoes, laces – and how the individual holds their limbs. The subject of identity is extended when we consider one’s relation to art, viewership, and expressions on canvas. “At the end I make the decision,” explains Bieniek, speaking to the subjects’ participation in the series. He also intends to exhibit them as photographs.

 

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Recently, his work spawned debate on artistic appropriation and copyright when a model sported make-up bearing an uncanny resemblance to Bieniek’s “Doubleface” series in Pharrell Williams‘ “Marilyn Monroe” music video. Both he and Chinese provocateur Ai Weiwei have been outspoken about the uncredited nod, oddly placed towards the end of the video and taking up about a second’s worth of screen time.

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The “Doubleface” series had attained huge popularity, taking top ranking in body art and photography best-of lists internationally and frequenting tumblr and pintrest feeds alike. After the Pharrell debacle, “Man on Canvas” seems a fitting follow-up, playfully questioning authorship, authority, and presentation.

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