Nick Hackworth

Sophie Von Hellermann, Saatchi Gallery at Underwood Street,

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

The contemporary art world is a fickle beast. It spends most of its time ignoring figurative painters, and then periodically embraces one with a suffocating bear-hug. Sophie von Hellermann, a recent Royal College of Art graduate, who paints in a
loose, cartoony, figurative style, is currently the lucky recipient of the art world’s close attentions. Consequently she has, over the past few months, had an exhibition schedule to make a Turner Prize winner envious, appearing in student shows, commercial shows and now here in Saatchi’s new north-east London outpost.

Why von Hellermann should have been singled out in this manner is unclear. Her large paintings (often measuring 2m by 1m) are inoffensive but also unremarkable. They are light in content and appearance, which gives them a certain superficial but throwaway attractiveness. She paints using thin acrylic washes which allow the lightness of the canvas to shine through, and her palette is of bright colours — deep oranges, pinks and yellows applied with big, expressionist brush strokes.

Her tableaux include scenes from contemporary life, as well as a number with a more mysterious, timeless feel; in all of them people appear indistinct, unconvincing as real human characters.

When He Came depicts a picnic. Two men in black ties sit either side of an attractive girl lying on her back. Her dress is a large, rectangular salmon-pink blob. A fresh lemon and some dill rest on her stomach. One of the men, fork in hand, is reaching towards her with carnivorous intent. The woman is at once a woman and a piece of salmon, an obvious metaphor for the link between sexual and actual consumption. Despite the horrific events about to unfold in this take on Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, everyone involved looks blank. Rather like the work.

Until 25 November. Tel: 07951 697891