On raw, neutral canvases made from linen or burlap, Helene Appel paints perfectly rendered everyday objects—wrinkled fabric, sheets of plastic, puddles of clear liquid, and slabs of meat—which appear to jump off of their nondescript picture planes. In each life-size trompe l’oeil composition, the artist intends to evoke the essence of the objects themselves, and to contextualize the work as a whole in space. In her new show at James Cohan Gallery, the German artist presents her newest body of work, punctuated by three new series—“plastic,” “fabric,” and “meat”—which continue her artistic practice of translating the mundane into contemplative compositions of quotidian life.
One new work, Loosely Laid Out Large Blue Fabric (2014) features the re-creation of a large sheet of striped blue fabric in watercolor on burlap—an unexpected pairing of materials, which she has combined to great success. Appel’s photorealistic technique has persuasively and carefully portrayed the swathe’s texture and folds, producing simple forms that recall the work of Minimalist painters. Her works differ though, in their representational imagery, inviting viewers to consider formal qualities and the technically sophisticated labor that must be expended to reproduce a casually strewn sheet.
Appel’s small Black Thread Stitches (2013), rendered in acrylic on linen, likewise toys with the conventions of the Minimalist grid. Here she has arranged a jaunty matrix of black Xs across the painting’s surface, and reaffirms the stitches’ apparent physicality by also including loose threads that fall over the picture plane. Her Large Nylon Net (2011) engages in a similar form of trickery, depicting a large white net falling over the canvas, even casting shadows on the linen. Its tangled lines weave optically challenging waves.
Perhaps the most challenging and beautiful among Appel’s paintings are those that depict spills of liquid, some clear, others dirtied and littered. Her 2014 watercolor painting Spilled Water is a reserved and beautifully painted feat of transparency and perceptibility of pooled water. Reflected light is shown caught on the fluid’s right edge, while it casts a slim shadow on the left.
Like other contemporary painters such as Chuck Close and sculptors such as Erick Swenson, who is also represented by James Cohan Gallery, Appel uses a sumptuous combination of patterning and highly detailed representation to examine the overlooked or underappreciated details of everyday life. Her paintings combine craft and reductivism to create engrossing and pensive images from the world around us.
Helene Appel is on view at James Cohan Gallery, New York, Sept. 4th–Oct. 4th, 2014.