The artwork in the auction, "Little Rock", was first displayed at Angelika Knäpper Gallery in Stockholm in the spring of 2009, at the exhibition that came to be Helene Billgren’s public breakthrough. The show was called "Free Kitte"n and the painting "Little Rock" was illustrated on the invitation to the private view. A curiosity is that Helene Billgren's horse was called "little Rock". At this time Helene and Ernst Billgren were still a couple, and it is not surprising that we find traces of Ernst Billgren’s paintbrush on the back of the painting.
Helene Billgren’s first major retrospective was at Färgfabriken in Stockholm in 1999; then followed by another one at Borås konstmuseum in 2012. Last year she once more presented a large-scale exhibition of works spanning her entire career, this time at Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm. The exhibition was entitled All Clear and ran until late autumn 2019.
Jessica Kempe reviewed the exhibition in the daily Dagens Nyheter and wrote the following lines about Billgren’s personal and brilliant painting style:
“It is in Liljevalchs’ three, theatrically lit, middle galleries that the paintings are staged. In panels barely one metre high, hung in long rows, they form a kind of expedition. A visual serial, which I follow with increasing fascination and many questions.
What does Helene Billgren’s astounding painting consist of? How does it get so good? When does it not get so good? And what happened to the image of the girl – in Helene Billgren’s world a figure always connected to the animal, in particular the horse.
Yes, the figure of the girl is still there in her painting. It is she who guides us out into the multi-layered shimmering mountains, the magnificent skies, the dark valleys, the sweeping swirls of colour and the mirages of cities. She is almost always seen from behind, often at the bottom of the painting, as if just on the doorstep of adventure. Sometimes she is found right in the middle of the landscape, up to her knees in colour. Occasionally she joins other horse-girls.
What is she doing there? It’s as if she’s paying art a visit. A guide observing what the observers observe. At the same time it is a visual aid allowing women the freedom and the permission to reshuffle romantic landscape painting – perhaps the most sacred form of expression for men.
Because isn’t Helene Billgren’s girl also a younger sister to artist Caspar David Friedrich’s male wanderer, who alone gazes out across a longed-for, impenetrable scene of nature.
However, when the girl in the painting Dirdleland adorns nature with a bow, she also forms a relationship to other female figures turning their backs to us in the work of Dick Bengtsson, Karin Mamma Andersson and Ernst Billgren. And isn’t Helene Billgren’s girl, furthermore, a spiritual relative of Rita Lundqvist’s girl priestesses, who in their excursions seem in alliance with nature’s secrets.
[…] Perhaps it is this combination of abstract, concrete and figurative painting that makes Helene Billgren’s imagery so dizzying. Through the thin outer layers, sometimes softly scrubbed away, the foundation shines through. Something new – or recognisable – always waiting beneath and behind.
It is a kind of hybrid contemporary painting style, without a real name, that for a long while has been developed by the artists mentioned here, but also by artists such as Peter Doig, Jarl Ingvarsson and Andreas Eriksson. Within this tradition Helene Billgren has found her very own, unique track.” Dagens Nyheter 19th October 2019.
Contemporary Art & Design
Viewing: 5 – 9 November, Berzelii Park 1, Stockholm
Open: Mon–Fri 11 AM – 6 PM, Sat–Sun kl 11 AM –5 PM
Auction: 10 November, starts at 11 am, Arsenalsgatan 2, Stockholm
Catalogue online from 28 October