Heinz Breloh was born in 1940, in Hilden, near Düsseldorf. He completed his studies in two phases: from 1961 — 63 he enrolled at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, where he was a student of Gustav Seitz. He then enrolled at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and joined the class of Fritz Wotruba from 1964 to 1968. Starting in 1969, Breloh worked in Cologne. In the 1980s he was guest professor at the Art Academy Düsseldorf (1982 — 83). In 1987, he taught at the École-des-Beaux-Arts in Nîmes, from 1993 — 94 he was guest professor at the Braunschweig University of Art, and from 1996 — 98 he taught at the Academy of Fine Arts, Münster.
Although Breloh initially took up classical training as a sculptor, he soon turned away from the figural foundations of this approach. Instead, he was fascinated with the Action artists of Vienna and their ritual staging of the human body in its direct encounter with the artistic medium. He sounded out the possibilities of this artistic presence in photography, video, Performance and Installation and created »interaktive Rauminstallationen« / »interactive spatial installations« (Zwei Kameras erfassen einen Raum / Two Cameras Capture a Room, 1974). Still, sculpture remained his preferred artistic medium. He ascribed its newly gained power of formal expression also to his involvement with experiences of movement in film and figural sculpture: »In the 1960s I constantly watched films; this interplay of light, shadow, and movement fascinated me, this dramaturgy – already at that time I thought of it as choreography. The figures tell something, and in that sense I understood their movement as a linear movement. Given that aspect – and not some kind of understanding in terms of contents – I of course saw anti-correspondences between the filmic progress of the figures and the curving contour of the Avramidid sculptures or the cubic contours of Wotruba« (trans. from Breloh, qtd. in: Wedewer, Am Beispiel Plastik, 1993).
Breloh’s works emerged from the direct treatment of his material, mostly plaster and clay whose plastic shape is to be understood as an archive of bodily interactions: The »modelé« of the surfaces and the compact shapes of the large-format early works always present traces of a dynamized encounter of the material with the artist’s body. Even if figural associations may be evoked, Breloh’s sculptures are generally to be understood as formless gestural objects, in which the movement of the artist manifests itself.
A stay in New York in 1980 resulted in Breloh’s artistic breakthrough. He created stele-shaped sculptures that emerge in processes of revolving out of the sculptural work done in stone. In the medium of the modelling sculpture he soon continued these explorations of forms that developed out of a choreographically determined motor activity and the resulting treatment of the material. With the series Lebengrößen / Life Sizes, Breloh developed a life-size model of a cubic grouping that mostly consisted of three elements. This serial work was continued until the 1990s. Proven in constantly new variations, he also integrated the model into public Performances. As a bronze cast, however, it acquired the character of a monument: »In a fixed choreography, the artist walks around, dances around the soft mass of plaster. He throws himself against it with this entire body – legs, hips, chest, back, head. He clasps the block with his arms, penetrates it with knees and legs, swipes back and forth with his head and thereby smoothes out a horizontal upper end. In a meticulously measured program, he presses, twists, winds along, into, and against the block, plows through the plaster towards the interior, feels it and envelopes it from the outside. He pursues his body lanes, until the material has become hard and resistant. The finished sculpture retains the shape of the body as a negative volume. It is (in the classical sense of memory) a monument of the body’s trace« (trans. from Schneckenburger, in: Skulptur als Körperspur – Heinz Breloh, 2008).
Next to the life-size sculptures, Breloh also focused on small-format terracottas. He considered them to be handshaped counterparts to the monumental formations. They evoke stronger figural associations, especially because they may be mounted on molded pedestals and may be looked at from a distanced position (Lebensgrößen von Ferne, Lebensgrößen am Horizont / Life Sizes from a Distance, Life Sizes on the Horizon, 1986f).
In an exaggeration of the creative artistic act and its physical, touching dimension, Breloh developed a nomenclature of his own. After the 1990s he did this by calling himself a »Sechsender« / »Six-ender.« He thereby ascribed to his plastic activity the capacity to make – through the originating process – the »six sensory ends of power,« head, arms, legs, and sex, visible as centers of power (v. Assel, in: Skulptur als Körperspur – Heinz Breloh 2008). Especially the terracottas, that suggest tangible corporeality and movement only in mediated ways, acquired significance in Breloh’s later work (Die Alleinigen / The Sole Ones, 1997). Color is newly added: pink and gold evoke associations of the playful configurations of rococo, of floating putti and stucco formations.
Beyond their instalment in public space, Breloh’s works have been shown in numerous exhibitions, among them the Documenta in 1977. He also presented his works in solo exhibitions, e. g. at the Kunstverein Wismar (1995), at the Nassauischer Kunstverein and at the Museum Bochum (1998). There was a comprehensive posthumous traveling exhibition that showed Breloh’s work in Bayreuth, Neumünster, Magdeburg, Hilden, and Hasselbach.
Heinz Breloh died in 2001, in Cologne.
Skulptur als Körperspur – Heinz Breloh: Ausst-Kat. Kunstmuseum Bayreuth u.a. Calbe/Saale 2008
Heinz Breloh. Der Bildhauer, die Bildhauer: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Bochum, Bochum 1998
Heinz Breloh: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstverein, Wismar, Wismar 1995
Am Beispiel Plastik. Konzeption und Form. Georg Baselitz, Franz Bernhard, Heinz Breloh: Ausst.-Kat. Städtisches Museum Leverkusen u.a., hg. v. R. Wedewer, Köln 1993