Venice Biennale Interview: Helle Jetzig – True Enough!

Helle Jetzig Portrait by Peter Nitsch

“In taking photographs, Helle Jetzig – a German-based artist who is living an working in Osnabrück – lays the foundation stones for the de-spatialized spaces he has set his sights on. It is still the paint that shortens and widens the proportions, that deepens the incisions and opens up the prospects, that pushes something into the foreground in one section and pushes something back in another. It is still the paint that constructs stage sets in layers from the various sections of scenery and lays over the scenes a gently billowing veil.” – writes Hans-Joachim Müller.

I recently met Helle Jetzig at the Galerie von Braunbehrens in Munich and we’ve been talking about his work. If you have one day the chance to visit an exhibition of Helle Jetzig, I highly recommend you to go there and watch his amazing technique of “finishing” the artwork. You really have to see his art with your own eyes because his pieces are definitely more than impressive.

First you’re a painter, then a photographer. Can we say the photographer photographs as a painter? How did it happen combining these two forms of art and why?
I can’t really answer the question how this combination happened because there was never a conscious decision or an actual plan on that. Rather continuous smaller decisions and chances led to my current working method. It developed over more than 20 years and consequently came to existence during work. It started when I introduced casual paintings to roughly joined sacks alongside other materials such as feathers and entire wings or little schemes of black-and-white photography. This fraction increased more and more until it resulted in my present work, where photography, painting and material are forming a special synthesis. I consider photography as part of my art, but rather in terms of collecting material. I look for themes, which are most suitable for my art. In recent years this approach becomes more and more independent. You could even say that I shoot photos with the eye of a painter.

Helle Jetzig

Venice (II Cielo) D2

Why did you decide taking the over-photographed “Venice” as theme for your work? What’s the main concept of the work True Enough!?
Venice is just like New York a city that totally fascinates me as a photographer and material collector for my art, and therefore I don’t really care if those cities might be overrepresented or not. I don’t have the expectation that my photos themselves have to be a piece of art. It’s not the cities either, even though they’re somehow important, which are fascinating me, but the endless possibilities for exciting motifs. Accordingly Venice might be still present in my pictures, but not any longer as a realistic location. True enough! is an ironic allusion to the sculptural concept, a play on perception and reality. Multilayer photo realities, paintings, silk-screen printing, color, varnish, shining surface etc. are producing a new reality within the picture. What you see and what you perceive is in the eye of the beholder. It might be the color, the motif, abstract shapes or even something completely different. Anyhow Venice doesn’t exist like that in real life, but very well in my pictures. True enough?

It seems you’re using the tools – analog, digital, paint – as you need them. Are you an image-seeker or an image-maker?
I’m of course an image maker, even if I’m searching and collecting for my photography. By the way I’m exclusively using analog cameras with black-and-white film for my work. My pictures come into being through a complex process that consists of multiple work steps. It’s making in terms of controlled coincidence. I don’t have a master plan for the finished picture because I can’t plan it. I’m using the photography as a black-and-white sketch, at which I primarily pay attention to the structures and respond at every step to the existent.

Can you tell us a little bit of your production process? Because at first sight one might think it was achieved with Photoshop, but everything is “handmade”. How long does the process take, what kind of material do you use and did you shoot everything analog?
The production process takes something like 3 months, though I’m always working on various pictures. It starts with the work in the darkroom, where big prints, often as fade of different motifs, are coming into existence on classic baryt paper. Those get attached to wooden frames and painted with transparent colors. I’m a pretty obsessed painter. I only use the fundamental colors red, blue and yellow, but in doing so I’m trying to create a multicolored hissing, to stress the picture in a new way, not only color wise but also technically, by setting lights or bring something in the fore- or background. For the Venice pictures I used to paint for example very dramatic skies that were not present on the actual photos. Following are many layers of clear varnish that are sanded over and over again. For many pictures I place silk-screens between those layers. The finishing touch consists of car varnish as coating. ❚

Helle Jetzig

Venice (Cloudy Sky) C2

Helle Jetzig

Venice H1

Helle Jetzig

Venice K1

Helle Jetzig

Venice B3

Helle Jetzig

A'Dam B2 (left) and A'Dam B1 (right)

© All copyright remains with artist Helle Jetzig.