Straddling the two worlds of art and comics – M.S. Bastian

Copyright: M. S. Bastian

The Swiss M.S. Bastian is one of the few comic artists who dare to attempt to straddle the two worlds of art and comics. With his over-the-top, super-detailed pictures and powerful illustrations, his work is as well represented in galleries and museums as it is at comic festivals. The impulse for his exploration of the comic as an art form came during his studies at the Bieler Schule für Gestaltung when he came across the Swiss comic magazine Strapazin. This was the first German-language publication to be devoted to artistically demanding comic material for adults, in the style of Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine.

At the same time as M.S. Bastian was publishing his comics in Strapazin and subsequently in various daily newspapers, he was also active in his hometown as an artist and co-founder of the Polstergruppe gallery, where exhibitions and concerts took place, and which also contained a bar. He shaped objects and sculptures out of cardboard, tin, scrap metal and wood and created huge wall paintings. Inspired by the American comic artists Gary Panter and David Sandlin and by painters and graffiti artists such as Keith Haring and Basquiat, M.S. Bastian began to experiment with quotes and fragments from pop culture and the art world, which he employed as an original visual language. Stimulated by the cut-up techniques of William S. Burroughs and the collages of modern art, he manipulates and defamiliarises images and words that he takes from comics, literature, advertising and art.

Päng! (Bang!) is the name of one such album and it’s with just that sort of explosive energy that M.S. Bastian adapted Bukowski’s words by cutting them up, putting them together in new ways or expanding them with his own words. In his following works, Squeeze (1997) and Peep Trash Bubbles (2000), he exploded the stifling panels of a comic, giving free rein to his excessive interpretations of the comic icons Mickey Mouse, Tintin, Bart Simpson and Jimbo. Once they’re set free, they shake up the whole world of comics, leaving complete chaos in their wake. Or they pop in to visit their favourite friend, M.S. Bastian’s own character, the friendly ‘Pulp’ (2004).

M.S. Bastian’s comics are not so much based on a plot as on individual scenes and images that originate in a familiar system of signs, forming a magnificent tableau that requires interpretation.

He finds complete freedom in his artistic endeavours, documented in the wonderful catalogues CoMIXart (1996), It’s a wonderful world (2001) and 100 Ansichten von Bastropolis (2007), as well as in the magazine Päng 2 (2008, Edition Fästing Plockare). His works now arise in cooperation with the graphic artist Isabelle L. (Biel, Switzerland).

For the comic festival Fumetto 2010, the two artists created the comic Bastokalypse. This 52-metre long monumental work deals with the history of the apocalypse - a furious work riddled with expressive figures and quotes from art history and pop culture.

M.S. Bastian provocatively crosses boundaries, he provokes and creates friction between the contradictions and shared features of art and comics. His work is like a subversive counter-initiative, outside official culture, accepting no limits. So it was just a question of time before he took his installations and ventured into the three-dimensional space, with the legendary Bastian Bar.

Matthias Schneider is a cultural scientist, freelance cultural journalist and curator of film programs and exhibitions about comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
December 2012

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