Karlsruhe, Germany, 1976
The recurring themes in the works of Helene Appel are more or less always the same, taken from everyday life, or rather from an everyday home life, as if she were painting things that are under her gaze, in a home kitchen. Chopped leeks, grains of rice, tea towels: painted in such detail that they look real, or like a trompe-l’oeil, and yet, as a result of their proportions in relation to the canvas, almost abstract. Subjects – if you will – of a staggering banality, obviously painted in place of something else, in order to say something else. Painted from life and, we can imagine, slowly. One brush stroke at a time, day after day, because painting remains of all the arts really the one that best identifies the artist with his own studio, the site of a daily drill, the stage of a dialogue with oneself, attempts sometimes successful and sometimes not.
Those of Helene Appel are still lifes with only one subject at a time. Reminiscent of Chardin, for their light, or the few, beautiful still lifes of Zurbarán, in which a cup or a rose appear to jut out of the picture, like in an offering; or even - inevitably - Morandi, for the painstaking care with which, we imagine, Helene places the items that she will paint in different sizes and layouts. Here, like elsewhere, vegetables, dishes, fish and meat, fabrics and branches or flowers, which are the classic themes of the genre, are pretexts to reaffirm the essence of painting: indexes that serve to refocus attention on the surface of the painting, and on the picture as a surface. The grid - which Rosalind Krauss resumes in Under Blue Cup so many years after its first formulation - is the device through which the painting of the twentieth century rejects representation (and perspective), electing the surface as its theme, and opening to the notion of specificity of the medium.
But if in a modernist painting the grid to be able work as a form of self-definition - must match the support, Grünes Handtuch (2014) seems to graciously make fun of this modernistic topos. The orthogonal-line pattern does not adhere perfectly to the painted surface, revealing the fact that here we are in the presence of an abstract image. However, it is clear that although the artist has not given up the framework of perspective, this is not built according to the Alberti rules, because the cloth that occupies the entire picture plane does not invite one into the picture, almost preventing one to get in (in other words, it invites the eye to wander along the membrane, non to penetrate it). Perspective, like the grid, is evoked only to be negated by a plane rotation: in Helene Appel’s paintings, objects are always represented as if they were viewed from above, arranged horizontally on the canvas, and then upturned vertically again once the picture is completed.
Thus, what happens with this double move? That from representation the object becomes a footprint or trace, turning the pictorial space into something else.
Cecilia Canziani, In piena luce (In full light), 2015
Helene Appel, Fishing net, 2016, acrylic, watercolour and oil on linen, cm.205x420
Helene Appel, Fishing net, 2016, acrylic, watercolour and oil on linen, cm.205x420, detail
Helene Appel, Water Spill, 2014, watercolour on linen, cm.67x42.5
Helene Appel, Cleaning Rag, 2015, acrylic on hessian, cm.68,5x55
Helene Appel, Seashore, 2016, acrylic and watercolour on linen, cm.280x130
Helene Appel, Seashore, 2016, acrylic and watercolour on linen, cm.280x130, detail
Helene Appel, Seashore, 2016, acrylic and watercolour on linen, cm.200x450
Helene Appel, Seashore, 2016, acrylic and watercolour on linen, cm.200x450, detail