In 2007, the German-born artist Barbel Helmert moved from San Antonio to Alpine, drawn by the wide-open skies and austere landscape. She’s found inspiration in subtle, highly textured, colorful elements of the harsh land, creating abstract photographs of rust and stains as well as small assemblages incorporating found and organic pieces of far West Texas, such as seeds, wire, mirror chards and insects.
“It’s a powerful landscape and you can see its influence in all of my work,” Helmert says. “I like to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. I like to find beauty in the mundane. Color and texture can be found everywhere if you’re just willing to look.”
Helmert’s “Ranch Series” photographs and “Western Series” assemblages are on view at Gallery Nord along with the work of two other German artists, Anemone Tontsch of Dusselfdorf and Inge-Rose Lippok of Hannover.
Helmert took more than 700 photos at a ranch outside of Fort Stockton that she chiseled down to the 24 images arranged in a wall-filling grid at Gallery Nord. Closely cropped and elegantly composed, the images include a fragment of tar paper, a spot where someone spray-painted a pair of boards, fluid oozing from a pipe, rusted tin, frost on glass and other stained and battered objects. The rich shades of red, yellow, green and purple with dramatic textures could pass for expressionistic abstract paintings.
“I’m fascinated with rust because it is something dying and transforming into something else,” Helmert says. “We all age and grow old and wonder what happens next. I would rather rust away slowly than burn out quickly.”
In standard issue 6.5 inch by 6.5 inch white-framed shadow boxes, Helmert creates lyrical assemblages that are almost like three-dimensional haiku about the often overlooked everyday wonders of West Texas. Her training as a jeweler and minimalist sense of design create delicate order from seedlings blown across her front steps, acorn hulls, a wasp nest, grass and cactus fibers.
“The fragility of the images and the playfulness with which they are constructed are in some ways at odds with the mundane nature of the materials and the self-reflection involved in the process of creating the works,” Helmert says in her artist’s statement.
She says the context of the materials and the imagery are intended to spark an examination of life’s dualities and dichotomies – obvious/hidden, balance/imbalance, holding on/letting go, connection/disconnection and simple/complex.
Helmert earned a BFA from the San Antonio Art Institute and has training in ceramics and printmaking. For many years, she worked as an assistant to her late husband, filmmaker Gerard Dolan, who directed the documentary “The last Child in the Global Race to End Polio” for CARE. After traveling the world and living in big cities, she’s found serenity in the high desert.
Inge-Rose Lippok, known for large-scale installations, covered the gallery walls with large grids of monoprints featuring chairs and stools and a key arranged like film strips showing the objects floating through surreal spaces. Brilliant colors add bounce to the playful compositions that twist perspective. Anemone Tontsch uses real pressed flowers in her jewelry as well as thumbtacks, matchsticks and bottle caps, treating ordinary objects like fine gems.
Concerned with transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, these three artists find minimalist beauty where it’s least expected.