Works until 2018
The artistic practice of Helga Gerken-Grieshaber, extending over four decades, exemplifies dramatic changes in expression whilst maintaining a recognisable point of view. The most recent series integrates time and content in work on paper and canvas, challenging social constructs in a refreshing way that expresses the artists own self-ironic and down-to-earth attitude and approach to life. Helga Gerken-Grieshaber pushes the limits of introspection with clear-sighted honesty, inviting an open dialogue with the viewer, giving her works an unapologetic accessibility.
Her series runter mit den Klamotten deals with daily political debates. The covering of women to adhere to the religious doctrine of maintaining purity and reducing temptation, raises complex questions surrounding female emancipation. Helga Gerken-Grieshaber experienced the daily absurdity of this first hand during her travels. Sitting at the breakfast table for example, concealed from head to toe, lifting fabric away from her face to allow food to reach her mouth; and through her veil witnessing men in white vests, sitting next to their shrouded wives by the fireplace. In contrast to her own life, these manufactured and nonsensical restrictions, caused an inner outcry within Helga Gerken-Grieshaber which she responds to through this work.
The underlying complex hierarchy of values, imposed by how much or how little fabric a women wears, corresponds with the varying levels of female freedom. Completely concealing the female gender under a robe is both an extreme and complicated image for Western society. So when travelling in these parts with a modern mindset, it should be noted that a short skirt is perceived as an invitation to touch with red lips waiting to be kissed. Helga Gerken-Grieshaber sensitively takes on these ambivalences of social oppression and embeds them in the chaos they create. Every stroke, every surface fighting for its existence; becoming pierced, screwed further, lost in the surface of the canvas, finds its way back to the picturesque body. A translucent shadow in pastel momentum carries on the dynamics of graphic stylistics, but also brings calm to the figurative contours that arise from the pigment. Within her abstraction Gerken-Grieshaber allows the viewer to find something they can cling to: the human form. Even in fragmentation she offers the possibility of recognition and identification. Through this cognitive process the title of the series — runter mit dem Klamotten – is loudly heard as a call to arms against the existing mechanisms of female oppression.
The emotional landscapes of Helga Gerken-Grieshabers implode without alienating the audience. Through direct openness in dealing with the medium of drawing on the edge of painting, she exploits their respective potentials in favour of direct exchange. This directness is further enhanced in terms of content and technique by the integration of fabric. The piece of the pyjamas, a fine g-string and pieces of a furcoat integrate with the abstract moments of the image, frame the human contours or even serve as a medium to apply colour to the canvas. Her everyday approach communicates a deep level of intimacy, although this collage technique should not be confused with the intention of a self-portrait. Confronting internal struggles inevitably influences artistic expression, however in this case does not reveal any private conflicts. Helga Gerken-Grieshaber’s concern is directed towards the medium in relation to content as a catalyst for artistic expression. Here the thematic direction should not be driven by the political charged subject matter, but rather geared towards her own needs with the same intensity: “and so I decided to do something relaxed, approaching the topic with humour and irony,” describes Helga Gerken-Grieshaber. The series of ICH-Bilder reflects on different levels of emotional states, where sincerity, sarcasm and selfirony go hand in hand.
The series of ICH-Bilder is interwoven with the works of the Schuh-Attacken both in terms of form and content. A humorous component tilts into the surreal, so that a mutated high heel bares its teeth biting into a knee, relentlessly drilling into a soft calf and elegantly stands out from the abstract colour carpet. The free form and direction serves as a stylistic foundation which underlines her practice and strengthens the relationship between her bodies of work. Sometimes more conspicuous than not, the word ICH surprisingly appears in black capital letters in both series, simultaneously serving as reassurance, focus and support; reminding us that the creative process intends to encourage reflection, both in recognition of ones own preconceptions and the meaning perceived.
The openness in dealing with this dynamic, without being artificially dramatic, is a central concern of Helga Gerken-Grieshaber. Despite the emotional depth the works avoid theatrics and remain approachable. The viewer can, may and should participate, but must be able to cope with the intensity of the dialogue. Helga Gerken-Grieshaber has lost none of her strength and directness in recent decades, which can be read in terms of stroke and colour, which is why this return can be interpreted in many ways only as a gain. (Helene Bosecker, M.A.)