Artwork Analysis > To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

Jean Hélion, Untitled, 1971, gouache and water color on paper, 58 x 38 cm

In a very ordinary clay pot, a beautiful green indoor plant with a very recognizable silhouette, spreads out over the whole surface of the paper.

In his notebooks from the period Jean Hélion writes “The multitude of forms and movements that compose the picture add simply to each other giving the impression that they have sprung from a single stroke of the brush”.  He considers that rhythm is the very structure of the painting.

In the painting, the branches seem to spring from the clay pot.  Palm shaped, they link the triangular end of their leaves to the soft curved lines of the stems which reach for the sky.

This dance of forms give the plant a cheerful aspect.  Only the dry branch, expression of the plant’s good health, points towards the bottom of the drawing. The rhythm of life joins that of the forms, “making sense and deepening the revelation” of the expression of life. 

But to “draw…the object and the rhythm that link the movement to the whole,  Hélion needed a second element: the color that elevates the rhythm …giving birth to the forms in the construction of the image.”

Hélion seems to only paint the light reflected on the leaves.  He uses a mosaic of colors going from black for the darkest parts to yellow for the lightest ones, passing by the blue and green of the shadowy areas. By juxtaposition he shows a whole range in demi and quarter tones uniquely expressed by optical illusion.

All around this shimmering, Hélion creates an “outward appearance of space”.  Only the color of the paper serves as background.  In opposition to the complexity of the colors of the plant, this emptiness brings an effect of depth to the painting and volume to the plant.  The spacing between the leaves makes them seem light and airy, putting them in movement.

The clay pot, simply drawn in brown, also seems to be in counterpoint to the greenness. The gouache is water colored here, and our attention is carried away by the elevation of the branches towards the top of the painting.

“In this way my figures resound in the entire space of the painting… My painting is good when the figures having proposed a rhythm, are invaded, remodeled and even created by it.  There is no more description. There is a birth of forms, born of rhythm and of figures born of these forms.  That is a Hélion.”

Nota. The citations are taken from the “Journal d’un Peintre” by Jean Hélion, 1971. Editor, Maeght.