‘Feather-light’ and ‘weighty’ are the apparently contradictory terms in which Sophie Von Hellermann’s work is described; the dichotomous aspect of her painting is what has kept critics returning to Von Hellermann over a period of years. This new show at Vilma Gold, her fourth solo exhibition at the East London gallery, is no less divisive.
Confounding viewers once again, Von Hellermann’s seemingly desultory series of acrylics on canvas - “I want the results to look as fleeting as the images that come into my head” the artist once told the Guardian newspaper in reference to her work – belie the studied rigour of her approach. Here she turns to Margate, and to Turner, aligning herself with his practice of treating oil paint as watercolour. It is her technique that has been often examined and talked of in the art world; the creation of pastel-toned, “determinedly wispy” paintings on a large scale, symbiotically reflecting a play off between grandeur and casual insignificance – another of Hellermann’s favourite motifs.
As fleeting as the images in Von Hellermann’s head, there are moments of fleeting beauty present here. Habour Arm is an accomplished piece and it stands head and shoulders above the other paintings. Very much like a modern Turner, it’s a very fine, very delicate, large-scale work, stripped-down of the usual mess, swirls of colours and shapes that typically inhabit Von Hellermann’s work. There are no bemusing references, just simple, elegiac beauty, that most succinctly conveys the fragile balance between man and his exterior world.
Crying For the Sunset aims high – pitching herself as a modern Turner reimagined. However the majority of Von Hellermann’s works just misses the mark. Compositionally they are weak, her figuration doesn’t satisfy, and her colour palette eddies and shifts ad nauseaum.
Von Hellermann’s problem, it seems, is she can’t seem to decide what she is – a traditional painter, or rebellious one. The result therefore comes across as somewhat half-baked. And never did we think we would see Will I Am of the Black Eyed Peas and Turner used on the same press release. It makes you wonder if the world hasn’t gone a bit mad.
-- Charlotte Jansen
All images courtesy Vilma Gold, London
Images: Sophie von Hellermann, Rocky, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 190 x 277 cm / 75 x 109 ins; Sophie von Hellermann, Installation View, Vilma Gold, London 2011