When you visit the Accademia museum in Venice to view Titian’s Pietá, and you move up very close, you would think the oils had been wiped on with a piece of cloth. You move back a few steps, and everything will go into focus sharply. Or take Rembrandt’s late works that consist of paint streaks, a strangely mushy structure, with everything on the move like magma flowing down a mountain. You step back and suddenly discover a marvellous face in it.

Dance and Movement – the Brush’s Momentum

The world as both particles and waves in motion: this is the idea a layman has had of the world as a building-block system ever since the advent of Heisenberg’s and Schrödinger’s quantum mechanics. It’s a dual way of seeing things, though never in parallel but always in sequence, that has accompanied Roman Scheidl as an analogue approach even when contemplating paintings. Ever since he picked up the ink brush, his attention has been less attracted by precise stills but rather by the various tempos to observe from close up, i.e. by the pace of painting. Be it Titian, Rembrandt, El Greco or Watteau, Delacroix, the impressionists, the expressionists, Bacon or Richter, he has always been intrigued with the high degree of painting density and the sort of intrinsic momentum to go with it. One moment, you think you’re recognising something very clearly; then, you move up closer and it’s gone.

In the process, Roman Scheidl has changed course away from his static, narrative early work. But, above all, he has expanded it. There were spatial effects even in his early paintings but they were rigid and defined clearly, albeit in some labyrinth-like, entangled way, as if frozen. At least, that’s what it looked like no matter what perspective or distance you were viewing from. The ink brush and the speed of its use have introduced movement and, with it, time into what he does.

The only funny thing about this technique is that it obviously makes the viewer think of far-eastern concepts at first glance. Indeed, according to his own words, Roman Scheidl decided to study Japanese Zen painting when he had understood that he wanted to do something similar. This is precisely the funny thing about it. No matter how fast far-eastern ink painters may have been in handling their brushes, the result is the very opposite of dynamic movement. It is much rather contemplation or meditation. We see a contrast between the speed at which the sheets are filled and the floating timelessness of effect. This contrast is aesthetically attractive and, at the same time, it can be explained as a result of the schematic symbols. It’s a typeface of pictures, as it were, whose speed in execution cannot be translated to what is represented but, on the contrary, emphasises content through the ease achieved by rote practice. It’s the validity of truth.

Contrary to this, Roman Scheidl’s aim is to capture the validity of the fleeting moment. However, the truth of the moment is not timelessness but its volatility, movement and momentum in time. In this context, speed does not refer to speed of production but speed reflected in the picture. The brush dances like a dancer and produces musical rhythm even if there is nothing to hear.

It was in 1988 that Roman Scheidl began attending dance and ballet rehearsals as an observer. In rehearsals, movements are practised over and over again by several persons at the same time. As an observer, you would see those persons from different angles. Additionally, you would have the wall-size mirror to look into. At the beginning, your brush might be too slow to capture a certain movement but you won’t have to wait for very long. You’ll have put down on paper one arm or the head, and there comes the same movement again. So, you’ll add the second arm and a leg, and so on and so forth. Over time, your brush will slowly catch up with the speed of the dance movements until synchronicity is achieved. In doing so, it is more important to capture the movement than to get the physical proportions right. The aim is to do on paper what the dancers do on the floor, and your brush will start jumping to the rhythm of dance.

As a child, Roman Scheidl learnt how to play the mandolin. His hand has not forgotten to move swiftly. It merely had to get used to a new job. Drawing with the ink brush is subject to change of tempo, breaks and re-acceleration as much as playing the mandolin is. The point is not to allow movement to stop even between brush strokes. The brush is on the move incessantly, constantly describing figures and movements even when out of touch with the sheet of paper. A few lines between the figures create space, several lines or symbols create a wall or wallpaper. Everything in time. As long as your brush is in time, there will really be no false line because every line will carry further the intensity of rhythmic suspense.

This is precisely what distinguishes Roman Scheidl from well-known European brush drawers such as Henri Michaux or Pablo Picasso, whose work is marked by speed and the use of symbols although the two artists differ greatly. Their work is about forms of reduction but never includes the dancing and whirling touches to be found with Scheidl.

With perceptible enthusiasm, Scheidl writes about his Chinese friend and ink painter Li Yan Pin: “His brush dispenses energy like a wand. The blow of a sword here, a splash there. […] China’s breath blowing past above our heads. […] There’s a point beyond which we fail to understand the Chinese. They seem to be walking invisible tightropes up very high, and all we can do is to look on in awe. They are the champions at reconciling opposites. They are not afraid of emptiness.” East meets West. For about a year, the two of them have met time and again to practise ink drawing together (the way Roman Scheidl had been working with Siegfried Anzinger, Alfred Klinkan and, above all, Turi Werkner before). There is no question about their techniques being similar, with both of them displaying something akin to unthinking routine. But while Li Yan Pin’s approach focuses on basic premises (Taoist universals), Roman Scheidl’s brush dances across all frontiers, leaving out neither the philosophical nor the banal. There is room for everything, and everything is a matter of movement, be it motor movement, mental flexibility or an unlimited interest in the essence of the world and the times we are living in.

I’ve always been influenced by Asians. I never bothered to be of pure style. Like an omnivore, I’ve taken in everything.

When I turn my eyes away and then back onto a painting, I get the feeling that I’ve changed it somehow. And when I keep my eyes on it, it will escape me. When I throw a quick glance at it, it will look precise. These are the things I’m interested in. It doesn’t matter at all whether the anatomy of the figure in motion on my sheet of paper is correct. The observer’s mind will put it right, and the figure will always be correct somehow. Why that? It’s because the figure is performing a certain movement, and the observer would pay attention to that movement rather than to proper anatomical proportions. I find it very liberating that this type of drawing is not about proper anatomical proportions. It is sufficient to sketch out something, and if you do it right and smoothly, you will create something alive. Your brush stroke will come to life.

I always take pleasure in my hand jumping along lightly.

The World is Not Equivalent to What We See
Sometimes, a day’s routine would involve fifty or sixty drawings, or dozens of miniature drawings in diaries, each no more than a few square centimetres in size. Today, he sometimes leaves ink drawings on the white tiles of urinal walls in nightclubs („I draw as long as I pee, and then it’s over.“). To do this, there is no need for an easel or even a studio, which is a major benefit for a man like Roman Scheidl who used to commute between Paris and Zurich in the 1980s. For a travelling artist, making quick ink drawings is a great means to capture the most volatile perceptions or occurrences. In the course of time, the thousands of drawings did not only produce a set of work in its own right but also generated a whole range of shapes and forms.

It all starts with the concept of randomness. Then follows rote practice of the hand’s motor system that guides the brush in full control. Once the result is there, you can lay out and read your own „oracle“. It has no implications for life but it does for work. It taught Roman „to repeat, to redraw, perhaps even to slowly forget the content and to think of the motif only“.

The „motif“ is a term that refers to both the picture and the artist’s motivation. And it is here that the two facets become entwined. The experiment with the „random numbers generator“ has not only resulted in a range of shapes and forms but has also led Roman Scheidl to develop an alphabet of symbols similar to the Chinese characters that have evolved from sketch-like original shapes to more abstract forms.

I don’t know whether my intention was to develop a set of characters but, above all, I believe I wanted to describe everything with it. I wanted to speak in abstract terms. I wanted to express philosophical ideas. I wanted to do trivial and sensual things, erotic things, everything. I wanted to see whether brush drawing was able to do all those things, i.e. I wanted to conquer the world by means of brush drawing.

Quotations with Regard to the Experiments
1) I don’t believe I was thinking methodologically at the time. I‘m viewing it this way only with the benefit of hindsight. Neither was I deliberately making any cycles of work. The cycles came about because I was making ten, twenty, thirty drawings in a row. I was simply sticking to the theme.

2) There are two ways of viewing ink drawings: either you see ink stains that have a life of their own and are very abstract in effect, or you see representations of a scene in them. In making the drawings, it was more important for me to remain as abstract as possible, i.e. to produce as many stains as possible that would not make you think of a theme. This is because I noticed in brush drawing that it was the space in between that was leaving very important visual impressions.

I believe this was also attributable to the shamanistic literature I was reading at the time, which emphasised that attention ought not to be paid to what things, such as trees, usually are but should be focused on all the space in between in trees – between the leaves, for example. And suddenly, trees would look completely different. One ought to be open to truths that speak straight from shapes and forms.

I was able to translate this to my drawings: I would no longer see the stains as describing a person or landscape but I would simply view them as what they were, i.e. stains.