Helene Appel. Washing Up


The quiet life of objects gives way to a meticulous description rather than a narrative, to enjoy the luxury of effort, patience and silence, a rigorous contemplation of the elusiveness of reality.

The painting of the young German artist Helene Appel works as a secular prayer to the eye of the observer. The viewer is seduced by grainy canvases that celebrate seemingly mundane objects, of great charm, almost borderline objects, not deserving of a surface-stage that becomes an epiphany of a worldly theater.

The still-life of Appel are each time very well studied, vivisected, described with a typical formal lucidity of a cold hyper-realism; when the real becomes more real than the same, the veil of Maya, of Schopenauriana memory, returns to the minds offering and showing itself to question critically and slip between those plans that dicotomically painting has always related: the reality and the illusion. These, in the artist’s works, penetrate alternating states of transparency with those of density. The elect objects, to name a few: fishing nets, rags, flour, sea water, kitchen sinks, pasta, steaks or bread. From the general to the particular, from the places to composition details. The painting process is a metaphor for a look under the microscope of the routine most derided by the attention. Poor elements that pose questions of a diametrically opposed essence, richly complex issues stand against the pictorial medium and the surface itself. In the case of Plastic Lid, we can see over, through the transparency of the subject, a plastic cover, but in fact the body to the body with the other element, the canvas, is enigmatic and disturbing. The feeling of seeing and discovering the surface is merely illusory. The s'(u/object) does not exist and everything is surface.

In transparent bodies like the covers, the foam of the waves, the fishing net, or water, the artist plays with the ambiguity element, disclosing and continuously creating allusions and illusions on the elected s-u/object. The protagonists of the paintings are bodies, viewed from a areal perspective, from above, offered with dusty authenticity. The fishing nets deceive the space, as threads pervaded by an electric wire, they possess the painted surface sliding on the canvas and washing it from unnecessary frills. Appel’s painting is not a painting of waste, her act is of preservation, a loyal gesture to a single element at a time, not to lose the detail, the nuance, the anatomy of each individual formal gap. A painting in which the gesture is a texture of a dilated time, in a contemporary that increasingly gets rid of the sluggishness seen almost as a defeat by capitalism. The German artist’s painting is anti-capitalist because dwells in an authentic and original reflection space, where the eye is disinterested. In the used, or in the natural, that something dropped from the attention save us from all the excess, from any visual pollution to which we are daily subjected. The daily life of Appel is a purified everyday, washed away, rinsed, cleaned, from the gesture of painting (sometimes) seen by the rampant contemporary obsolete-obso-slow.

If through the moments of the surface transparency this seems unveiled and looks evident in works such as Bread and Meat, painting denies the space of the canvas. The slices of bread or meat occupy all the available surface not allowing the access to the graininess of the underlying material. The veins and the reddish blooms of meat, in an ambiguous trompe-l’oeil, introduce us in a body size dimension, making us develop a tactile requirement. Appel’s paintings are haptic and sculptural times but at the same time full of human vibration. The objects from the silent life, remind us albeit in a different way, one of the great Bolognese masters like Giorgio Morandi, who of things and long installation times has been able to give to contemporary art history a moment of deep breathing, of immense quiet and a human look capable of stopping where only painting returns an essence never absent. The surfaces and the s(u/objects) of Appel are present not only in the moment of their occurrence but in the continuation of the moment, which as in a frame is imprinted forever. The artist carries through her work, a wonderful semiotic reflection on the very meaning of painting. In the wonderful collection of essays signed by Louis Marin “Of representation”, the chapter dedicated to “In Praise of appearance” takes up the thesis of the scholar Svetlana Alpers and her book on Dutch art of the seventeenth century from 1984 entitled “The Art of Describing”. In this text, Alpers compares two models of painting, the one of Alberti, based on a certain kind of perspective with a will of narration, and that of Dutch painting intended to describe in detail an art composed of surfaces. Marin writes: “It is as if the world in its appearances, with its surface, showed itself on the surface of the canvas, duplicate its exact replica under the fascinated and attentive eye of witnessing viewer: the artist, who had no other function, another task, which is to be – as would have like Stendhal, two centuries later, in his novels – “a mirror that leads along the road.” Writes: “Back to the surface, then: this would be the watchword of the “new art history”, that would find with the book of Alpers and Dutch painting of the seventeenth century the subject historically, culturally, aesthetically and theoretically privileged to build its business models: the surface as an ambivalent place, at the same time work of painting and exhibition of the world, image and thing, in short, the space of the indexes, traces and brands”.

I add then that the painting of the young German artist is painting a very in line with contemporary styles to the intrinsic photographic features, that pervades much of the art produced to this day. Appel’s paintings are deposits of living material that wash, cleanse and protect the eye from deception of the chaos of today. The surface of things becomes a stubborn research of a a present in perpetual flight.

On show at P420 gallery in Bologna from 24 September to 5 November



Helene Appel, Bag, 2013, acquerello e olio su tela


Helene Appel, Rip, 2016, encausto e olio su tela


Helene Appel, Small fishing net, 2013, acrilico e olio su lino


Helene Appel, Water Spill, 2014, acquerello su lino

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