Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today I would like to present to you an artist whose work is among the most unusual
in the spectrum of contemporary art. Heinz Soucek creates art using empty cans. He
is certainly not the first artist to do so, as there are and were others like Andy
Warhol and Jasper Johns for whom the motif of the can regularly played a significant
role. However, for Heinz Soucek, the can is not only a motif, but has become the
principal medium of his work.
It was during the summer of 2000, when the Tour de France cyclists raced through the streets of Freiburg and thousands of spectators gathered to watch it, that he heard the call to become an artist. Remembering the definite moment, he says, “After the race, seeing all the garbage in the streets, I pulled a can out of the bushes and suddenly saw it with new eyes: the can was colorful, life is colorful, and for me, life means joy.“ It is obvious from just these few words that Heinz Soucek is an eternal optimist. What others would see as a reason for annoyance and disgust, namely their city littered with garbage, has become a source of inspiration for him.
Ever since that day, Heinz Soucek has been collecting cans wherever he can find them, though his favorite spot is Colombi Park. After the cans have been collected, he carefully sorts and cleans them, and then cuts them into pieces of various shapes and sizes. Finally, he transforms them from mere raw materials into unique visual dreams.
Using the principles of collage, regarded as one of the archetypal techniques of the classical modern age, his ideas are brought to life. As a result, one cannot imagine Heinz Soucek without his cans, because the cans actually turned him into an artist.
Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most famous artist of the 20th century, together with the ingenious Georges Braque, were the inventors of this technique of collage. Around 1910 the two began, somewhat tentatively at first, incorporating bits of newspaper, pieces of wood, basketwork, and other such materials into their works. For them, a picture was not supposed to represent the illusion of objects, but instead contain objects in the true sense of the word. This idea turned out to have significant consequences for the entire history of 20th century art, because collages made up of a few harmless pieces of paper or wood helped to pave the way for more radical experiments. Just a few years later, as Dadaism was at its peak, the use of garbage in art started to play an increasingly significant role. The artists, and this was their declared intention and goal, succeeded in inciting anger among the general public. Today, nearly 100 years later, this is hardly controversial any more. For example, as you walk through the art exhibition in Basel, you encounter artifacts made out of more or less refined garbage wherever you go. They range from Jean Tanguely’s odd machines, the ragged advertisement pillars, the Déchirages by Mimmo Rotella, scrap cars pressed and transformed into sculptures by Cesar, to the objects of Joseph Beuys, just to name a few. The Arte Povera- perhaps Italy’s most important contribution to the history of 20th century art- was focused on elevating the use of the cheapest and shabbiest materials up to a fine art format.
However, Soucek`s work is fundamentally different from the works of his colleagues, which are often laden with daring theories. For Soucek, L`art pour l`art, meaning the self-absorbed activities of his famous contemporaries, are of no interest. He regards himself as an action- driven artist, who vigorously participates in the world around him. Moreover, he does not only want to evoke an aesthetic response with his “can pictures,” but he also wants to make people think and ponder. His choice of material, soda cans, is therefore only a pars pro toto, which is meant to represent all the garbage in the world.As he himself says, the objective of his artistic undertaking is to call upon people to stand together against garbage piles. So far, Soucek has created approximately 120 collages of different sizes and themes, and the intense luminosity of the colors and glittering metal are prominent features of all his works. The bright colors are reminiscent of American Pop Art of the 1960s, because artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, borrowing from the principles of design and advertising, also employed such eye-catching colors. For example, the shiny red of the Coca-Cola can does not only have a high recognition value, but the design with its unmistakable character has carved itself into our global, collective memory. Nevertheless, removed from its normal functional context like in Heinz Soucek’s collages, it takes on a completely new, somewhat confusing meaning. The gleam and reflection of the aluminum are evocative of a medieval reliquary. Consequently, the picture surfaces become restless, causing the eyes to move frenetically around the various surfaces. Likewise, rather than comforting the spectator, Soucek wants to make him shake and become conscious of the environmental damage caused by the increasing amount of garbage produced by mankind.
Soucek is self-educated, and the life he led before he started his art career could be described as adventurous. As a sailor, he saw the world, sailing everywhere from the Orinoco River in South America, the Caribbean to India and Burma . During this time he survived countless disasters, and even almost drowned at sea. He also worked at a variety of jobs, including as a cook, a businessman, and a baker. Through his adventures, he learned to see and appreciate life from different perspectives and angles. These experiences you can clearly recognise in his pictures. For example, we see the skyline of New York City where the twin towers of the World Trade Center prominently stand out, and this image is then simultaneously mirrored in the water below.
The strong horizontal composition is created by narrow strips, which help to suggest an enormous expanse and spatial depth. Seen from a distance, the individual parts, the strips of the cans in this case, converge in order to complete the effect. His style can thus be compared to the paintings of Claude Monet, which are composed of coarse and thin strokes of the brush, though when seen from a distance they merge and result in a dynamic and comprehensible painting . Moreover, the colors seem to move and flow. You also find this visual effect in Heinz Soucek’s works. Thematically, one cannot reduce Heinz Soucek`s work to a common denominator, because it is precisely the variety that is one of its most remarkable features. Along with the pictures of city skylines, including Dresden, Hong Kong, Venice, Sydney and Freiburg, there are also self-portraits, a dancing artist, and a “pin-up girl.” Nonetheles you can also discover religious topics, including a crucifixion.
Recently, his Freiburg Minster, a collage comprised of 20,000 strips of tin and 500 cans, which required hundreds of hours of work, has brought him some well-deserved recognition. Keeping in line with his artistic motivations, there is also a social and ecological theme behind this work.
When Soucek read in the “ Freiburger Wochenbericht“, a weekly newspaper, that Dr. Conrad Schroeder asked the German Chancellor to support the Freiburg Minster he immediately got down to work. Within two hours he found eight sponsors, among them the UBS, who were ready and willing to support his project. The project’s aim is to collect donations for the maintenance of this unique cathedral, the most important landmark of the city of Freiburg. An unusual, though at the same time exemplary involvement in the community serves as the driving force behind Soucek`s work. To say it in his own words, “Only together are people able to build a minster like this, only together they can also resolve environmental problems.“ I would like to thank ....