Titled ‘Crying for the Sunset’, Sophie von Hellermann’s next solo show at Vilma Gold comprises a new series of paintings made during a stay in Margate. A once fashionable seaside town, Margate was of course also beloved by the British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851). The artist returned there frequently for its famous quality of light and skies. In looking to Turner, Hellermann draws not only on his imagery but also looks to his personal life. She imagines Turner the man: a lonely and eccentric painter who was disappointed with the world and carried out a long affair with his seaside landlady Mrs Booth.
Perhaps Hellermann’s personal interest in Turner began in terms of handling. By treating oil paint as if it were watercolour, Turner is sighted as revolutionising landscape painting. And Hellermann, who has become known for her broad and distinctly washy brush strokes, somewhat echoes this. She works with acrylic on unprimed canvas. Like when working with watercolour, which she maintains as a significant part of her practice, she paints with speed and deftness. Often to bathetic effect, her images move with great ease between mythology, current affairs, philosophy and the everyday; this fluidity inducing them with a very light and airy appearance. Never laboured, objects and figures are spread across the picture plane so that they are imbued with an almost weightless quality. She has been quoted as saying: “I want the results to look as fleeting as the images that come into my head”. Her canvases become projections of vast imaginary spaces. With both the weighty and the inconsequential treated with the same playful casualness, she seems to be aiming towards a painting that is completely fresh, or unburdened.
It has been noted that Hellermann works on the scale of history painting. Perhaps her practice could be seen as a play of diminution and enlargement. In luminous colour and with the slightest shrug of a brushstroke, big concepts are treated as if they were small, or more innocent. They are then scaled up again to inhabit the world of grand museum paintings. Some of her titles acknowledge this push and pull. For instance, the title of a new work ‘Will I am’ (2011) is deceptive in its apparent nonchalance. On one level it is pop culture, naming the singer from the Black Eyed Peas. But on another, it again brings in Turner, treating this canonised figure in typically Hellermann first name, personal terms. Furthermore, contained in it is yet another tiny but telling critique, this time of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s ‘The World as Will and Representation’ (1818) discusses the disparity between a subject’s fundamental will to life as opposed to the indirect world around him that he perceives via the senses. Having resided temporarily in a town that was once thriving but is now blighted by social and economic problems, Hellermann here begins to look at the balance between an individual’s will and the power of exterior factors affecting him.
Sophie von Hellermann (born Munich, Germany, 1975) is an artist living and working in London. In 2010 Hellermann had a solo exhibition with Josh Smith at MDD (Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens), Deurle, Belgium and has had solo exhibitions at Chisenhale Gallery, London, Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany and Neuveaux Commanditeurs, Nancy, France. She is currently included in Watercolours at Tate Britain, London and will take part of Printemps de Septembre in Toulouse, France.