Sophie von Hellermann: New Waves at Pilar Corrias

Sophie von Hellermann is a young German-born artist, living in London, who is currently displaying her first solo exhibition, ‘New Waves’ at Pilar Corrias. Von Hellermann is widely known for her 2003 painting of Christo Paffgen. Christo Paffgen is in fact the real name of Warhol protégé, Velvet Underground vocalist, and unrepentant lifelong heroin addict, Nico. Rather than capture Nico in her excess, von Hellermann chose to paint her before she lost her beauty, zest for life, and her eventual death in relative obscurity in Ibiza in 1988.

Although she typically paints using acrylic, von Hellermann’s work is usually very watery, silky and undefined, lacking clean, crisp lines, creating a flowing and delicate scene. Von Hellermann applies pure pigment to an unprimed canvas very quickly and with a light touch to create the beautiful, effortlessly light effect.

Von Hellermann’s watery style is perfect for her latest collection of works entitled, New Waves. The paintings are inspired by the view from her studio in Margate. The paintings emerge from her thoughts on the ocean, showing images of storms, pollution and mythology. Around the gallery, von Hellermann has decorated the walls with pale wisps of blue and purple paint, with faces woven into the streams that run along the walls.

“Treasure Island” 2017, is a mammoth-sized painting that instantly captures the attention of viewers. The painting largely consists of a deep blue, merging the sea and the sky into one beautiful setting, with a pure, earthy green island in the middle. The scene shows swimmers in the water, seemingly struggling against the waves, making their way to the island, which is home to a distant figure and a herd of sheep.  The scene might trigger some questions on what is the treasure this island holds and how the men ended up in the water in the middle of the night.  One thing is certain about this painting; ‘Treasure Island’ raises many questions for viewers, but answers none.

Many of the paintings in the series contain aspects of pollution and mankind’s disrespect towards the oceans. The sea is such a beautiful and majestic presence. It is almost magical, and it is exclusive to our Earth, making Earth appear as a blue marble from space. It is home to around one million different species, and is thought to contain healing properties. The water on Earth enables human life to continue and yet we treat it horrifically by polluting the water with our waste, and over fishing, destroying the sea’s eco system, as portrayed in, ‘Fish Supper’ 2017, which shows humans attacking a fish with a giant knife while it bleeds a ribbon of red across the canvas.

Visitors are led downstairs by flowing blue, lilac, and purple streamers and waves that have been painted onto the gallery walls by von Hellermann. In the downstairs room of the gallery viewers are surrounded by the gushing waves of von Hellermann’s paintings as they're taken on a journey to the depths of the ocean. Viewers are greeted by the ‘Goddess of the Sea’, 2017, and a rather menacing depiction of Poseidon in, ‘Poseidon’, 2018, where the great God of the Sea and other waters; of earthquakes; and of horses, sits in his temple in Atlantis, his trusted trident gripped firmly in his hand. Poseidon’s trident helped him in controlling the seas, and was known to aid him in creating tsunamis and sea storms as he stirred up the tidal waves. Poseidon is said to carry a three pronged trident because the sea is said to be the third part of the world; because there are three kinds of water: seas, streams and rivers; and because it symbolises the three properties of water: liquidity, fecundity and drinkability. Poseidon was the protector of the sea and seafarers, which is presumably why von Hellermann’s painting of him shows him in such an aggressive manner, as he is enraged at the treatment and the condition of his beloved ocean.

‘Float Underwater’, 2018, shows a different side to the ocean as viewers drift away from the furious glares of Poseidon, towards a more fun and gleeful scene. The painting is full of bright colours, including hearty amounts of blue and yellow, representing the sand and sea. It shows a strange seahorse on the ocean floor as a group of tiny, colourful humanoid creatures ride on its back, appearing as if they are dancing.

‘Plastic Ruler (of the waves)’, 2017, also shows humans and sea life embracing each other as a figure of a woman glides gracefully through the water, while a dolphin swims along beside her. However, the title of the painting ‘Plastic Ruler (of the sea)’ and the woman holding a ruler, most likely plastic, suggests a secondary meaning to the painting. Humans are the biggest cause of waste pollution in the oceans, with an estimation of around eight million metric tons of plastic entering the sea each year. This statistic alongside the painting’s title could suggest a much darker interpretation than viewers would initially see amidst the charming, pastel colours.

However, looking at the positives, both of these paintings possibly forward the notion that humans and the sea can live peacefully together, and enjoy the magical wonders it has to offer; but only if we work in harmony with its energies.

Sophie von Hellermann's 'New Waves' is on at Pilar Corrias until 24th March.  More information may be found here.