The Square in Motion
Helga Philipp studied sculpture at the former Academy of Applied Arts under Hans Knesl from 1955/56 to 1961. She completed her first Op Art work, silk screen prints and objects, after her studies. In these pieces she worked on contemporary themes such as alignment, permutation and aspects related to the psychology of perception. She took part in a number of exhibitions, including the 1965 Neuen Tendenzen 3 in Zagreb, with her “Kinetic Objects.” This allowed her to join ranks of the Concrete, Constructivist Kinetic artists. The experimental filmmaker Kurt Kren made the film “11/65 Bild Helga Philipp” that same year, and filmed one of her prints for it.
She created many different variations of her Kinetic Objects throughout the second half of the sixties in which she studied the possibilities of visual motion for her basic motifs, the square and rhombus.
The Circle Motif – From Graphics to Object
Helga Philipp was instructed the Master Class for Painting, Graphics, Sculpture and Media of Professor Herbert Tasquil until 1975. In her teaching she focused on serial and plastic shape development and programming. She also began to apply these principles to her silk screens in the seventies. The circle replaced the square as her motif during this time as well. Philipp transferred her new repertory of shapes into three-dimensional projects in a series of large-format installations. A new seating group, a large installation made of tire tubes in the Vienna River, a variation of this work at the Galerie nächst St. Stephan and an aluminum object with the title “Serielle Struktur,” were all created during these years. The circle is also a motif in Philipp’s Kinetic Objects of the period.
The Expanded Image Space
Different circle rendering possibilities continued to preoccupy Philipp in her graphical work. She worked on paper, but expanded the two-dimensional image carrier technically, creating an image space by making her circles step into space with relief-like structures. In a second series of pieces, Philipp uses prefabricated cardboard discs covered with graphite hatchings. The discs were then applied to the image carriers. This was the first time the artist left traces on her work that could be considered a clear artistic signature. In a second set of works Philipp embosses the circles using ring-shaped metal discs of varying sizes and pressed handmade paper. The line motif began to appear in these embossed prints as of 1976. Philipp presented an installation named “Schichtungen” at the “Kunstmorgen” exhibition of the Galerie Patio in Germany, which can be considered a continuation of her line embossing works.
Beyond the Borders of Pictures
The Kinetic Objects made of Plexiglas created at the beginning of the 70s were the last of Philipp’s pieces that could clearly be considered Op Art. Visual perception play continued to be evident in her work, but the simplicity of the means employed within the shape and medium and the aspect of movement, which was of major significance to Philipp, became increasingly important. Graphics with a reduced use of formal lines began to evolve from 1977 onwards. Philipp succeeded in making it possible for beholders to experience space and time with these graphics.
The seventies were defined by extensive exhibition activity. Philipp’s status at the University of Applied Arts changed as of 1975. She was named a full assistant professor, which she remained until 2002.
Painting in Space
Helga Philipp acquired a villa close to St. Johann bei Ternitz in 1978 that was allegedly built according to plans by Theophil Hansen in 1879. She spent a great amount of time renovating the house over the next years, which also led to a hiatus in her artistic output. But the new generous working areas gave her the chance to use different materials and larger formats. She created her first paintings in 1985, including the fifty-six-part “Domino” and a series of “Shaped Canvases,” in which the picture surfaces weren’t merely image carriers, but also worked as autonomous objects. “Paravent” was the work that ultimately put Philipp’s painting in space. The application of very pasty paint in some areas and the use of aluminum and graphite pigments are characteristic of her work. Due to the reflecting particles in the pigments her paintings seem to actually shine despite their dark color values.
Space in Painting
Concepts taken from the psychology of perception such as perceptive inversion, the visual shift in the perception of shapes that allows for many different interpretations, began to interest Philipp as of 1987. She began working with simple geometric forms and colorfulness began to emerge as well.
The format of Philipp’s work began to change drastically as well. Paintings that often consisted of many different parts grew to sizes of up to ten by two meters. This large format also made a change in the perspective of the beholder necessary as well.
The artist created a form of space-time for the beholder with these works, the sculptural potential of the light-dark contrast between graphite and aluminum pigments and the simple, constructive line and surface structures offer the viewer different perception possibilities.
Light and Graphite
Philipp turned to layered graphics in which she worked with graphite on tracing paper and layered many sheets to create one object. Thematically she pursued proven strategies such as combinations of simple geometric forms, the principle of perceptive inversion or the creation of movement on the surface using compositional means.
As of 1996, Philipp started working with graphite on black paper. The relation between the whole and its parts, the distribution of light-dark contrasts and the depiction of a sequence and the rotation of a surface in space are the main themes of these graphics.
Philipp completed her only commissioned work, the “Domino” installation for the foyer of Lecture Hall 6 at the University Center on Althanstrasse, between 1995 and 1997.
The Late Œuvre and the Return of Color
Philipp’s parsimonious use of a color palette changed at the end of the nineties and she replaced the gray-colored pigment with a blue mixture of cobalt and ultramarine. Color as something concrete, color in itself now became a theme along with space, time or light.
Philipp began to silk screen the ideas of shape she had explored in her graphics in the workshop of the art silk screen printer Andreas Stalzer as of 1997. Color is also the essence of the artist’s last silk screen cycles before her death. These can be rated didactic cornerstones in concrete art.
Philipp’s works since the early 70s have been the pillars of a Concrete-Constructivist stance, not least because they challenge the beholder to be open to their effect. This makes Helga Philipp one of the pioneers of Concrete-Constructivist art in Austria.