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Why Robert Heinecken’s typographic elements is the trend of the season

H

is work is unsettling as well as provoking. He had a thing for pornography and he experimented with his medium in any possible way. He was a true Californian artist and today, almost eight years after his death, his work is all the hype thanks to a curator and a designer, a museum and a fashion House. What timing, alright! When MoMA’s curator Eva Respini introduced us to the dystopian world of Heinecken in the first major retrospective of his work after his passing in 2006, another photographer decided to pay tribute to what seems to be a trend this season. The invitation to this year’s catwalk show for Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent show (Yves is now obsolete - deconstructing French fashion was a bold thing to do) was a booklet of Robert Heinecken’s work. Robert Heinecken was the ‘para-photographer’ who made -often explicit and disturbing- art out of media images, questioning modern culture and its pornographic elements, whose work can be explored at Hammer Museum at UCLA through January 2015.

A pioneer in the postwar Los Angeles art scene, his work stood “beside” or “beyond” traditional ideas associated with photography. Working across multiple media, including photography, sculpture, video, printmaking and collage, he recontextualized found images to art. Through collage and assemblage, double-sided photograms, darkroom experimentation and rephotography, Heinecken’s rough universe resonates with current artistic practice. Commercialism, Americana, kitsch, sex, the body and gender can be found in the portfolio of the artist and teacher obsessed with popular culture and its effects on society. Even though he was a photographer, he seldom used a camera. As a graduate student at U.C.L.A., Robert Heinecken specialized in printmaking, but in those days, when the contemporary Los Angeles art scene was in rebellion, he began to combine lithography, etching, sculpture and photograms in any way imaginable. He, himself was quite imaginative.

“There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph”

His hybrid integration of photography with other media was a rebuke to the aesthetics of conventional artists. Maybe it is because he has always been closely associated with photography that he never achieved to gain an international reputation similar to that of Ed Ruscha, but that would probably not be a problem for the man who combined letterforms and images, boobs and bush, the highs and lows of pop culture and managed to make art that would be the foreshadow of what’s on the Internet today. 

His approach on photography was very close to today’s internet visual culture: an overload of random images appearing on a retina display, letting you, the user, mix your own experience with the visual information you receive. An artist to the bone, Robert Heinecken took no interest in photography as a documentative medium. “Many pictures turn out to be limp translations of the known world instead of vital objects which create an intrinsic world of their own”, he once said. “There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph”. Maybe the man who became from outlier to prophet was right when he said that there are already enough pictures in the world, a call to creativity obviously.  

By Loukas Karnis