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Fleeting Images In My Head

Sophie von Hellermann paints dreams, figments, tropes. A lone figure marooned beneath scarlet skies on a desert island. Some strange memory of a woman running through fields as a plane hunts her down. A girl in a long dark dress, arms outflung in horror as she overturns a chair. Her romantic, pastel-washed canvases draw inspiration from fables, legends and classical mythology.

The understanding of how a picture manifests in the mind and how that manifestation can be continued onto the canvas, realized as a material image, is the fundament of Sophie von Hellermann’s working process. Her technique is intimately prompt, almost abrupt—like the forming of thoughts into words, except she forms thoughts into painted imagery—and so she uses the act of painting as a form of communication like writing or speech. She applies pure pigment directly onto unprimed canvas, using broad-brushed washes to imbue her paintings with a sense of weightlessness.

The allegorical instance, as found in von Hellermann’s paintings, allows her to keep track of things that would otherwise disappear. Every new painting is started in the hope of recovering the loss of the old. In the end, von Hellermann’s paintings simultaneously proffer and defer a promise of meaning; they both tease and frustrate our desire that any image be directly transparent to its signification. As a result, they appear strangely incomplete—fragments or ruins that must be deciphered.

Sophie von Hellermann’s work is held in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Rachofsky Collection, Dallas; Start Museum, Shanghai, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and X Museum, Beijing, among others. She works and lives in London and Margate, United Kingdom.