Some Notes on the Paintings of the Eighties and an Explanation on the Use of an Airbrush


‘Essence’ 1978   acrylic on paper 50 x 50 cm

‘Jacky’ 1978    acrylic on paper   50 x 50 cm


The paintings ‘Jacky’ and ‘Essence’ are not strictly paintings of the 80s. They were created in the 70s, and have a different idiom compared to the drawings of that time and the paintings (80s).

They were exercises to perfect my airbrush skills and  further develop the technique I was to use in the larger body of painting: Free-hand airbrushing, which makes no use of templates or other forms of masking, and where every part of the image – however small – blends into the rest of the painting, confusing the eye with an end result that resembles a slightly out of focus photograph.


The drawings of the last years of the 70s, which were not inspired by but based upon photographic material and its typical characteristics, had one very obvious disadvantage: Because they were done in pencil, they had an inescapable handwriting, which became more pronounced when the picture was examined close up.

While it was important to present the viewer with the knowledge that the work had been handmade by a human being, the handwriting, the marks of pencil on paper, served too much as an autograph. Furthermore, drawing was a traditional technique, which had other implications: Those of craftsmanship, of skill, of dexterity. For Martin Helm, these were uncalled for attributes.

The objective had become to mimic the given subject matter – the photographic evidence, so to speak – as precisely as possible, to make the difference between the original picture and the final result as minimal as possible, in order to make the differences between the two stand out as much as possible.

Handwriting clearly stood in the way of this objective.

Why use an airbrush?

The instrument presented me with some characteristics which I found beneficial:

In no way is the surface of the canvas actually touched

an extremely thin paint film

breaking completely with traditional methods of painting

a new way of mixing colours on the canvas/’ transparency’ of even opaque colours (through very fine particles/droplets)

a ‘cool’, detached technical approach

no lines, sharp edges, all colours blend into each other.

no ‘handwriting’.

the ‘alchemist’ approach: Mixing air, water, earth  and fire to produce an inspired result.

from painting to object, from object to installation…

The final paintings of the series were influenced by the ‘Monument-project of 1982. They were not painted on canvas, but on shaped cut-out panels. The human figure  became isolated and fragmented, detached from its surroundings and original context.



other objects

day of the Jumbo Jet cut-out

This development led in turn to the creation of the installations documented in the ‘Viewpoint‘ series.



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