On the Works of Helle Jetzig
Helle Jetzig has been one of the most original artists based in Osnabrück for many years, and is classified as belonging to the younger scene. He was born in Emden in 1956, and has been living and working in Osnabrück for over 20 years. Despite having completed a degree in art at the local university, he still considers himself an autodidact. His artwork, which is based on photography, evolved consistently and subtly. When observed fleetingly, his works appear cool and smooth, or even impersonal and reproducible. On the other hand, they reveal a very personal character that has developed consistently in the course of the years.
His works first attracted attention as early as the end of the 1980s. It was impossible to categorise his mixture of non-representational painting and material collage into a particular style of art, although influences from significant 20th century styles had unmistakably left their mark. These were especially styles that incorporated non-artistic material into artwork, in order to find the appearance, rather than reality, by systematically experimenting with materials. Neither did the objects illustrate something in the conventional sense, nor were they narrative in the original meaning of the word. The substance of the artwork was the materials themselves and their technical manipulation resulting from the development process.
In Jetzig's earlier works, connections to Tapies' material pictures were visible. References to the works of Robert Rauschenberg were also evident. In the 1950s and 60s, Rauschenberg, who was influenced by the classic dadaist Kurt Schwitters, introduced everyday objects "objets trouvés" (including photographs) into his pictures, putting them into a completely different context.
Since reality is only cited, it is called up even more suggestively; the citation has a stronger effect than the detailed portrayal.
Elements of this artistic intention as well as the beginnings of the serial principle of Pop Art can still be determined in Helle Jetzig's present oeuvres. Jetzig's Combine paintings were still constructed using objects he had found. These objects were not selected by chance – they originated from certain special areas. Again and again we find sacks, boxes, paper, pieces of wood. Photographs that were used for his pictures. In his pictures the colour also served as a material, rather than a means to represent something. Even today he still adheres to these basic principles. In this sense, Helle Jetzig has particularly concentrated on working with photographs in recent years.
The first step in his artistic work is to select suitable subjects, i.e. photographs he has taken on educational trips to Europe, the USA and Asia. Sometimes he returns with over a thousand photographs. These are then viewed, combined, enlarged and superimposed. Finally, they are mounted onto 5-10 cm flat boxes or, as in his most recent works, on Dibond. The photograph, or rather the photographic combination of different subjects, becomes the base upon which to paint. Unlike his earlier oeuvres, his current photographs are rarely illustrations of people, who only appear coincidentally. Instead, they usually portray man-made things.
A frequently recurring theme is the streets of New York and San Francisco, as well as photographs of Berlin or industrial plants. Works he created following an educational trip to Taiwan have a completely different character. Other images stand like symbols for another world.
In choosing his photographs, Helle Jetzig does not consider their emotional content to be decisive. In other words, that which he feels or is reminded of when viewing the pictures is not important. Instead, their suitability for composition is the only aspect that interests him from a purely artistic point of view. The photograph, which is always composed of several different motives, forms the base, almost like a black-and-white sketch. Subjects may recur – they may be rotated or combined with script or other symbols. For Helle Jetzig it is always the structure that offers the potential for stimulation.
In a lengthy process, which can take up to 3 months, Helle Jetzig paints over the photographs, usually using several layers of varnish. By means of screen printing, he adds symbols to the picture that may correspond with script, which is waiting to be discovered in the photographic base. In his earlier works, he placed particular importance on the artistic emphasis of materiality – he is now still not interested in making a concrete statement, but rather in pure painting, despite the obvious closeness to reality conveyed by the photographs. Jetzig manipulates images of visible reality using colours, and thus transforms the objects to structures.
The layers of varnish do not emphasise the objects. Instead, the photograph seems to lose itself in the pure painting of the coloured surface. Here again, the colours are not the means of representation, but the material of the picture. The picture refers to itself alone. Hence not everything can be read from the picture at first glance. The picture has a lasting effect on its beholder. The objects become abstract, giving them a level of meaning through the visible reality.
The screen prints also seem to point out the same meaning. On the one hand, they represent a compositional clip, but at the same time they seem to be copied pictures. Like optical hallucinations that only seem to be real. Helle Jetzig also feels the same about questioning things that have occurred. His intention is to open up new ways of viewing things, and to question a picture's content of truth, which is omnipresent but can also be manipulated in the media age. Reality and questioning reality go hand in hand in Jetzig's pictures.
Parallel to Jetzig's object-related oeuvres, which are mounted onto wooden boxes, he also creates pictures in which light Dibond is selected as the background. These pictures float away from the wall, becoming increasingly lighter. Through their connection to the wall they become even less concrete and more abstract. The paint, as a material component of the picture, is pushed back. These photographs do not gain their colour from being painted over with several coats of varnish, but by blueing or browning during the development processes. The screen prints are still concrete, and appear to be stamps on the picture. The personal touch of the artist is unmistakable in his method of processing, subject-finding and in the canon of colours, such that the easily copied medium, which seems to allow the objective view of visible reality, always turns into a singular, individual viewpoint.