"At first sight, you experience a strange suction that is created by his suggestive photomontages. A kind of magic that cannot be fended off, and which involuntarily drags you deeper into this mysterious maze of shapes and colours, which come together to almost spherical, glowing visions of cities.
Anyone who has travelled by train has experienced the phenomenon of simultaneously perceived realities. Outside, the landscape flashes by; meanwhile the windowpane reflects the illuminated interior: the opposite window in the compartment, the passengers, or even the landscape on the other side of the tracks. At the same time, we perceive settings from three different planes of reality, maybe even four, if we count the “unbreakable” imprint at the bottom edge of the windowpane as an object plane. The simultaneity, which is caused by cinematic superimpositions, and to which our video clip-trained eyes are accustomed nowadays, has been captured two-dimensionally by Helle Jetzig as a familiar but disturbing photo. Since we are used to seeing pictures primarily as portrayals, we walk straight into the trap the artist has laid for us. Helle Jetzig speculates with mechanisms of perception, with collective memory patterns – only much more differentiated and, in a literal sense, more multilayered, than we are accustomed to in advertising. Spontaneously, we believe we recognise associative portraits of cities; but at the same time, subtle disturbances prevent us from “ticking off” the work. Our eyes are forced to scan its structures and colour scopes; this highly sensitive balance between location and the surreal, which only gradually leads to the realisation that Jetzig’s work does not arise from reality, but from an uncommonly cunning manipulation…
…Jetzig … makes the colours swing. The only difference is that a photographic black-and-white framework provides the rhythm and subject of the “boogie-woogie”. The source material is of no further importance to the artist. Helle Jetzig sees himself as a painter. He is gripped by formal attractions, rather than the significance of the buildings, the names and uses of which he doesn't even know. Nonetheless, he does not like working with things that already exist. “I prefer looking for subjects which catch my interest as I walk along the streets.“ His eyes rest on the compositional qualities of the architecture: surfaces, structures and rhythms. The symmetry of the windows and façades. The musicality that lies within the staggering, innumerable signs and billboards. The dissonance that arises from the movement of perspectives. “Buildings can be wondrously artistically modelled,” is Jetzig’s explanation for his preference for technology."
Isabelle Hofmann, The Maze of Realities,
in: 15 YEARS, Helle Jetzig Catalogue, Hamburg 2001)
Art as a Journey with Many Stops
Brilliantly shining colours, glossy and occasionally mat varnished surfaces, different photographic subjects, perspectives and excerpts, colourful photographic, almost sketch-like picture components, advertising panels, large cities, industrial plants, landscapes, sometimes also animals or people – these are unmistakable works of Helle Jetzig, in which these elements grow together to almost surreal scenarios. They have an extra special aura that the viewer succumbs to at first glance.
And almost immediately one asks oneself what kind of pictures they are, how they come about, what is used, and which techniques make them possible. The photographs are unmistakable, but the vividness does not at all correlate to the objectivity. The photographic subjects seem to be a logical picture, but suddenly the perspective changes. How does the depth arise? Which material is the hermetic surface made of? Have the pictures been manipulated by a computer? A series of questions that arises due to the discrepancy between a recognition effect on the one hand and the "disturbance" caused by a great sensory expressiveness and material effectiveness on the other hand – because the works seem at first to be related to the pictures of our beautiful, colourful world of media and advertising, but are actually completely different from them.
If one wishes to fathom out Helle Jetzig's oeuvres, it is worthwhile watching him at work over his shoulder. His great artistic potential, the complexity of his artistic means, and hence the artistic statement, then disclose themselves to us. The point of view of the artist, i.e. the producer of art, necessarily differs from that of the beholder. Whereas the beholder perceives and experiences the picture in its entirety at the same time, at a certain point in time, the artist has accompanied and caused a number of phases to come into being. The moods, feelings and associations a picture trigger in the beholder are not necessarily intended by the artist. For him the picture is primarily the result of a quite practical process.
For Helle Jetzig in particular this practical process is of crucial significance to the artistic statement. He employs various different media and materials. His works are created in several different stages, each of which could theoretically form a complete picture in itself. The various different artistic means influence one another, as well as the works as a whole, and therefore always lead to new artistic paths. The works become independent in a certain way, are a result of the work itself, and do not follow any foreknown statement. The thing the different stages have in common is their examination of levels of reality – in art, in the media, in the portrayal, in the material.
On his journeys through Germany, Europe, the USA, Cuba or Taiwan – as well as at home, if something interests him – Helle Jetzig is a photographer. A photographer who runs maniacally through the streets, searching for subjects, with his eye set into "camera mode", always thinking about the excerpts he selects, the lighting conditions, the perspectives or the effect. Even at this stage reality is conquered by the selection of a first "artificialisation" since the type of portrayal in the end influences the reproduction, and hence the type of perception, of reality.
Another factor of this "artificialisation" is Helle Jetzig's film material. He only ever takes photographs using black-and-white films, which he develops himself and initially produces as a small contact copy. This step enables reality to be set into the picture for the first time, making it working material. Although we perceive black-and-white photographs as being documentary and honest, this is only because we are used to the everyday reality of newspapers. In reality, the medium is completely abstract, consisting only of black, grey and white areas.
The abstractness of the picture material is in accordance with Helle Jetzig's method of dealing with it. In the next step, which takes place on the computer, it is now – unlike when taking photographs – no longer the subjects and their content that interest him. The contact copies from this huge collection that seem useable from a formal point of view and with regard to the picture, rather than the content, are scanned and stored. The viewing of negatives and the search for possible combinations are carried out in small steps at a virtual level. In this phase of the work process picture sizes and series are also roughly planned. This is necessary because certain subjects and combinations are predestined to take on particular formats. Some, for example, are particularly suitable for squares or extremely long formats. Sufficient photographic paper is then cut into the respective formats, and the bases that will form the foundation of the picture, flat wooden boxes, are built.
The actual artistic process begins in the photo laboratory. In the dark, lit only by a small red lamp, the huge projections can be made out, rather than actually seen. Photochemicals in huge baths fill the air with a poisonous vapour, which Helle Jetzig can only tolerate when wearing a breathing mask. The artist sometimes spends days or even weeks in this almost magic, unreal atmosphere. One after the other the negatives are projected onto large rolls of photographic paper. Unfortunately, however, the projections are invisible prior to their development – combinations and superimpositions can therefore only be controlled to a limited extent. It is a "composition into the blue" which, despite a certain preselection, still hides many surprises that only become visible when dipped into the chemicals. The black-and-white photographs, the result of a complicated chemical and development-technical process, have thus released themselves from their maker, and have begun their own life. Everything that now takes place is a reaction to their actual condition.
Up to this stage, the work could be called that of a photographer. It leads to a purely photographic result, which in itself already represents a conclusive composition, demonstrates tension and makes an artistic statement. But for Helle Jetzig this just initiates the next step of the journey – the work of a painter. During this working phase, which demands a great deal of concentration, sometimes affecting his very substance, he uses the black-and-white photographs like a sketch. In a traditional painting style, reminiscent of the Old Masters, he puts layer upon layer of coloured varnish onto the photograph. He sets accentuations, emphasising and restraining, creating brilliance and depth using artistic means. Both "Verticals"."People 7" and "People 8", pictures with an almost identical photographic "sketch", are an example of how the painting ensures that no two similar pictures are created with simply different colours. The painting changes the whole composition, taking the picture into a completely different direction. The painting itself, however, is not the object. The painting is nothing but colour and shapes, and does not represent anything. Informal expressive painting cannot consciously be steered, and lives from spontaneous reactions to that which is available. We thus find a picture reality, the content of which is the process of painting and the paint material itself.
A main component of the painting is also the layers of varnish. In numerous layers, which have to be sanded down, layer for layer, a material reality arises over the course of several weeks, the sensual effect of which has become typical for Helle Jetzig's oeuvres. The use of varnishes as a picture material is, among other things, a demonstration of the artist's love of experimenting with a wide range of materials. In his earlier days, he frequently used wood, fabrics, various different qualities of paper, e.g. also photographs, metals and varnishes, which were applied as a thick resin-like substance to the picture objects. In order to protect the painted photographs, they were also coated with a finishing varnish. This stage of his artwork has developed into an independent entity over the years, and has become his "trade mark", without ever having been planned or elaborated beforehand. He experiments with his means, which he uses to develop his artistic statement.
Before applying the final layer, the finishing varnish, which can be either glossy or mat, Helle Jetzig uses yet another artistic technique – screen printing – in a wholly original way. In order to obtain unique originals, symbolic graphic picture components which later appear to swim between the layers of varnish, he uses a graphic duplicating technique which serves a completely different purpose here. It completes the composition of the picture. With the assistance of a photo-sensitive layer, which is applied onto a screen, the photographs are transferred to the screen. These are printed as coloured or empty areas, i.e. printed and non-printed areas arise, giving the black-and-white photographs an additional level of abstractness because the grey tones, i.e. the tinges, are omitted. This is what Helle Jetzig finds interesting about screen printing. It enables him to present his material – photographs – as an abstract medium. This, however, is not the only intention; it is not about the conscious decision: I will show you that photographs can be abstract. Instead, it is about the production of artistic and compositional components using other means. Thus the screen prints can be connecting elements or else they can refer "irritatingly" to the construction of the picture. They can be distributed as a pattern or as stamps throughout the surface of the picture.
Helle Jetzig calls his stamp-like screen prints "Marks", which is also the title of his current series, demonstrating their present significance to his works. While in his earlier phases of work it was the painting (today's resounding colour spaces were created from earlier photographs painted over in one colour) or the photographs (instead of just a single subject we now find superimpositions and combinations) that triggered a new artistic step, in this case it is the screen prints. However, these developments are made slowly, almost "while at work". They are not "thought out". That is rarely how artistic decisions are made. They grow out of the action, have suddenly become necessary and logical, and arise "by themselves".
The first "Marks", which were not yet called as such at the time, can be seen in the picture "Hamburg 8" from the year 2000. The tower appears twice as a screen print: once cut off – at that time simply a necessity in order to give this picture the desired compositional tension. But the picture no longer gave Helle Jetzig any peace. A new variant of the composition with the aid of screen prints had "taken on form" in the true sense of the word. But a long time passed before these oeuvres were ready for use. This presupposes that the various different artistic techniques and stages are at the same status. Both the photographs and the painting have to formally fit the "Marks".
"Marks" only recur again at the beginning of 2002 in the form of metal pictures. Even here they were yet not called marks. These were created during an in-between phase, strongly geared toward photography. Jetzig's old love of materials, in particular of metals, corresponds with photographic experiments such as blue and brown colouring, as well as solarisation. Solarised photographs and those that have been exposed in the developing bath have a metallic effect. Helle Jetzig combines them with photographs that have been etched onto metal in the screen-printing process. The strong material attraction of these works prevents the painting from coming to the fore and forces it into insignificance. Helle Jetzig sets colours as the means of the composition into the picture with the assistance of the screen prints. Here the "Marks" have again of their own accord become necessary as colour and in the design of areas.
In mid 2002 the first coloured works with "Marks" appeared within the "True Lies" series. Today they are a frequently used artistic means, which have established themselves. This, of course, also influences the oeuvres as such; the stamp-like "Marks" have become a significant compositional element.
But this is not a static state – the works are in perpetual motion. This is Helle Jetzig's particular strength. He is an artist who forever interchanges with his materials and media, someone who cannot abide standstill. A man who is always open to new ideas but who, at the same time, remains true to himself and his artwork. Someone who has perfected the various different visual and artistic means but who never uses them crudely to gain a particular effect, but instead follows these means in order to discover new things.
His work is a perpetual examination of art, reality and various different picture works. His oeuvres reflect this examination. There are pictures within pictures that tell of different realities and states. There are pictures of a journey through the world of representation and illustration as well as through the world of pure art, which only satisfies itself.
Osnabrück, January 2002
in: Helle Jetzig – Marks, Munich 2002