Houses and Other Objects

Hans-Peter Hepp`s Recent Paintings and Installations

In Hans-Peter Hepp`s paintings of houses and cities at first glance things would seem to be in order, literally: the houses, streets, bushes and trees, whole settlements and city quarters look organized, tidy, spick and span. This basic atmosphere is underscored by luminous colour contrasts of fresh green and blue tones, shades of red tending to pink and violet, and a graduated range of pastels. At the same time, the scenarios give the impression of being strangely detached, unreal: sparkling clean houses line up closely beside one another, as if cloned, forming a markedly wide image. Even the bushes and street lanterns comply with the monotonous rhythm of this strict choreography. The painting would seem to caricature those uniform new residential areas spreading out everywhere on the periphery of German cities. Paradoxically, it is hard to imagine that anyone lives in the houses Hans-Peter Hepp paints, that children might play in the gardens or that sometime or other a car might drive down the street. These pictorial worlds seem part and parcel of a parallel universe where the houses are divested of their normal function and become sufficient to themselves.

In another painting, a row of houses can be seen stretching over a hill that swerves down abruptly to the right. There can be little doubt that Hans-Peter Hepp likes to use his artistic freedom to exaggerate and distort, but also to simplify and typify reality. Just as trees and bushes are reduced to a general, uniform common denominator, so too the houses represent a kind of archetype of a normal private house.

Yet what seems in the paintings to have something of a model, something unreal about it – due also to the artist`s regular, unifying mode of painting – is in fact based on exact observation and analysis of the visible world. This is evident in a particularly concentrated form in the sketches and pictures Hans-Peter Hepp produced during his six – month sojourn in Japan. The new, strange surroundings motivated him to engage intensely with the specific formal idiom of architecture and everyday commodities. The result were numerous pencil sketches of different kinds of houses, streets and objects. In addition to his own photographs and a collection of advertising brochures, he has compiled visual stocks which have gained access in various ways to the final paintings.

The largest work Hans-Peter Hepp painted in Tokyo is entitled „Große Landschaft“ (Large Landscape).This detailed bird`s eye view of an urban landscape consists of a huge synthesis of individual studies and observations, from the shape of the street lanterns to that of the high-rise buildings. This arbitrary juxtaposition of the most diverse building types is based on direct observation, as are the unusual violet – green or beige – brown facades. The painting develops its unique character not only from the formal idiom, but in particular from the finely nuanced pastel – like mosaic of colour, which is shot through with strong pink and grey tones. The vivacity of the colours is in strange contrast to the absence of any sign of human life, which is also a characteristic of this painting. Clearly Hans-Peter Hepp is not interested in producing a comprehensive portrait of a city, but – as in other paintings of houses – in rendering the houses themselves as protagonists. His paintings can be understood as a stage on which he presents his own painterly reality, in which visible reality plays a part, but only in a highly selective and adapted form. The ambivalence of these works arises from the artist`s dual interest: a strong dedication to reality`s givens, and a delight in autonomously and playfully transforming and reconstructing them with the tools of painting.

This aspect of transformation is particularly evident in his paintings of objects. Stimulated both by the specifically organic form and by the, for European eyes, unusual and sometimes gaudy colour of modern Japanese household articles, Hans-Peter Hepp subjected the objects to a subtle and gradual metamorphosis. First he formed the items freely out of plasticine and then painted these function – free sculptural shapes on canvas as individual objects against a monochrome ground. Heightened in their effect by Hepp`s preference for very luminous complementary colour contrasts, these objects, isolated at the centre of the painting, have something monumental and at the same time surreal about them, despite the small format of the works.

For some years now Hans-Peter Hepp has been working with invented objects or with constructs derived from objects. In the mid – nineties he produced, among other things, brightly coloured landscape paintings into which he integrated strange, organic objects. Later on he created installations for different exhibition spaces made up of monochrome papier-maché objects freely distributed around the room. In 1998, three glowing red amorphous sculptures attached to thin threads hovered in „Raum X“ in Düsseldorf, while at the same time entering into a colour and form based relationship with eight landscape paintings arranged uniformly around the walls. The illusionary space of the landscape paintings opened into the real space of the room, and the real site of the „flying“ objects became linked to the cloud – dotted expanse of the paintings.

A related, but very much more extensive installation in the Ballhaus in Düsseldorf in 1999 transformed the lengthy high – ceilinged hall beside the Aquazoo into a kind of imaginary aquarium populated by strange blue luminous two – horned papier-maché figures. Two large landscape paintings on the front and the back walls, the colours of which in turn completed the figures, showed a meadow with trees and a huge crater against a violet evening sky on the one wall, and on the other an Alpine panorama with snow-covered mountains and a lake into which, from above, a gigantic yellow trunk was hung. Along the rows of pillars at the sides, smaller colourful plasticine figures, like bizarre guards, observed the puzzling scene. The surreal humour of the installation pointed the spectator`s imagination in a cosmic, extra-terrestrial direction.

Whereas in many paintings produced in the 1990s the radiantly colourful objects stood like both absurd and amusing hallucinations in their idyllic landscapes, in the installations these ambivalent moments are intensified. Catapulted as it were from the paintings into real space, the objects no longer seem purely imaginary, but unfold a real presence in space. The fact that presenting the bulky amorphous forms in a hovering state allows their real presence to assume a fantastic aspect links them in turn with their origins, the painted landscapes, as does the carefully attuned colour harmony between the two spheres.

Hans-Peter Hepp`s preference for material like plasticine, which he uses mainly to make preparatory models for his paintings and objects, is of great significance for the character and shape of his works. When formed by hand plasticine tends to the compact, the organically rounded, and to oversimplified, coarsened forms. Like the papier- maché sculptures, the painted trees, bushes, houses and even the clouds in the paintings exude an aura of plasticine. The resulting formal equivalence between the most diverse of pictorial elements creates its very own kind of harmony within the paintings. The architectonic and organic, the constructed and the naturally grown are so transformed as to assume a homogenous painterly-sculptural quality.

It is not least this homogeneity of the surfaces which, apart from any aspects of content, lends these paintings their peaceful yet oppressive, harmonious yet unreal character.

Thomas von Taschitzki, 2001

(Translation: Pauline Cumbers)