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Young German Art in England

Young German artist Sophie von Hellermann saw a breakthrough in Britain with the Saatchi-sponsored exhibition "Images that are nagging me". Is Hellerman's debut the start of fresh interest in contemporary German art?


All roads in London's art world lead to Shoreditch these days – and in particular to art collector Charles Saatchi's Underwood Gallery. Saatchi, who is known to buy the entire studio contents of contemporary art studios has brought various young British artists to fame and glory - via contemporary art shows in his galleries. One of Saatchi's latest shopping sprees included a dozen paintings by German artist Sophie von Hellermann. The 26-year-old is now a celebrated figure in the British capital.

Von Hellerman's summer exhibition in Saatchi's Underwood Gallery called "Images that are nagging me" was a breakthrough for the artist – and for contemporary German art.

British gallerists and curators tend to check out British art school's end of term exhibitions for new talents. Sophie von Hellerman studied at the Royal Academy of Art after training in Düsseldorf. Her works caught the eye of the British art scene - including Charles Saatchi. Saatchi, who is said to spend an annual estimated 4 million dollars on contemporary art, spent a few on Sophie von Hellerman's paintings and put them on show at his trendy new gallery in London's East End. The exhibition was a tremendous success.

Von Hellermann en Vogue

The exhibition was a boost to von Hellerman's career – and to her image. It didn't take long for fashion magazine Vogue to book the popular young artist for a photo session in the artist's studio. The Guardian compared the "dryness, controlled looseness and tart palette" in von Hellermann's paintings to "Edvard Munch, Marlene Dumas and some of the late Martin Kippenberger's more painterly moments". And the Independent added von Hellermann to the list of top British young artists.

The exhibition "Images that are nagging me" consisted of 20 paintings made during the past year. In her paintings, von Hellerman draws upon popular media and reinterprets scenes from 1940s films into contemporary life. "Vusering Hites", for example, plays on Charlotte Bronte's novel "Wuthering Heights" and transports the figure of Cathy to a time of cars and other forms of contemporary life. In the painting "Mourning Electro", four men, like pallbearers, carry what looks like a keyboard through a grim landscape of bare trees. And "When he came" is a parody on a painting by Manet.

Having fun with Hobbypop

Hellermann paints with a swift, fluid stroke, her figures often posess cartoon-like qualities. Her playfully romantic paintings suit the comic, energetic installations display of art collective Hobbypop – of which she is one of the founders.

Von Hellerman founded the Hobbypop group in 1998 while studying in Düsseldorf. Hobbypop now has its own "museum" in Düsseldorf – a huge wharehouse which serves as exhibition hall, disco and installation background for the group's monthly events. The art collective, which stages different art shows according to current political, social and cultural topics is already renowned in London, Paris and San Francisco. Various members of the Hobbypop group are now based in London, including Sophie von Hellermann.

According to Hellerman, young contemporary artists these days are all trying to copy Britain's YBA's – Young British Artists such as Damian Hirst and Tracy Ermin. Indeed, there are obvious parallels between the success story of these YBAs and von Hellerman's Saatchi-sponsored stardom. So is Hellerman's debut the start of an increasing interest in young German art? According to the Guardian, "some of the best painting anywhere now originates within the triangle between Amsterdam, Antwerp and Cologne". Whether this is true, Charles Saatchi and his famous fistful of fivers is sure to show in the new year.