In my work I seek to portray the intimacy and pitfalls of human relations and our own vulnerability, using humor, drama and sensuality as narrative forces. I compassionately confront the viewer and myself with the impossibilities of our dreams and desires. In my current series I portray women, both famous and not so famous. However successful, these women represent inspiring role models, by the sheer boldness of their choices and the way they shape their own lives. They are self-made women, with all their highs and lows. These works tell a story of fame and failure and always show women living and aging. Ultimately, my works are of course a-typical as portraits. They are humorous narratives in which I seek to put my own story as a woman and as an artist into perspective.

- Helma Pantus  2016

 

 

 'Intimacy is something that frightens a lot of people, myself included. That's why I show it in my work. Not to make people feel uncomfortable, but to confront them with the vulnerability and touching side of us humans.'

- Helma Pantus

 

'A good painting contains three elements: humor, drama and sensuality.'

- Helma Pantus

 

 

From the catalogue of the Museum for Modern Art Arnhem MMKA  

 

The paintings of Helma Pantus focus on familiar, humorous, scenes in small format. Pantus studied in Den Bosch in the Netherlands in the seventies, and her early works were semi-abstract paintings. Although abstract art was taken more seriously in that period, Pantus preferred painting in a figurative style. 'My early work was never really abstract, I have never completely understood abstract art (….) What I miss in abstract works is the sentiment'.1 In her later works Pantus has been expressly searching for sentiment. She has painted for example a dog in the snow or a wounded panther that had been shot. She has searched for vitality without pretention, and found inspiration in 17th century art such as the scenes of children playing on Delft Blue tiles, or the landscapes and interiors of Adam Elsheimer, Jan Steen and Albert Cuyp. But this was not enough - the sensuality was not there. The painting The Swing, from the 18th century French rococo painter Fragonard, has eventually helped Pantus to find her own direction. In 1988 she reproduced this work, she did not copy it, but emulated it in her own manner with a previously unknown freedom of expression, 'by walking in the path of another artist I was able to find my own path'2.

 

          Soon after this the above mentioned scenes have been replaced by the expression of her fantasy and the world as she sees it. From this time Pantus has been the foremost subject of her own work. 'I use my own life as a starting point, but the image must attain its own power of expression. The central figure is not primarily herself but relates to something in her environment.'3 Scenes of passion and humorous situations are alternated with human figures totally absorbed with themselves. The scenes are primarily expressive with an inappropriate enhancement and are playfully painted. The main subject usually being depicted in the centre of the composition. 

 

The human figures in her paintings appear to be seeking a unification with nature, the unspoilt, or that something special which is often unattainable. The series Cold Shoulder 1996-1998 depicts a snowman being embraced by a naked women. This is a perfect example of the impossible: even the warmth of the woman, which pours from her very skin, does not melt the snowman. A vain attempt to combine the two subjects in the painting which is not only dramatic but also contains an element of pathos, even humour. In simultaneously combining the warmth and the cold I could portray a feeling of drama, humour and sensuality - for me the most important elements of a painting.' In the series from 1999 a woman attempts to catch a hare. The hare represents man's fear of a bond. A trapped hare will persist in jumping against the wall until it is dead. The futile attempts of her subjects to be at one with nature or something else are not only dramatic, but often poignant and humorous. For example Girl on a Bush (1994) where a naked girl is lying as if washed up on a bush 4.  

 

           An example of a piece that Pantus has cited is the canvas Birds (1990), which is in the possession of the MMKA in Arnhem. This portrayal appears to have been literally cut out from a 17th century landscape painting. Discussion in the Snow is from the same year. On this canvas we see two figures standing on a small island in the middle of a winter landscape. It is snowing and, as in a traditional Dutch landscape, in the background one can see the contours of a church tower rising from the polder. One figure has his hands theatrically in the air, to give emphasis to his enthusiastic discussion, while his partner is standing stoically with arms folded. Apart from the fact that these two figures are isolated from their surroundings, because they are standing on an island, they also appear remote from each other due to their obvious miscommunication.

 

In Polder Landscape, also from the same year, we are looking at the back of a naked child who is standing on her head in a barren polder landscape. In contrast to the aforementioned work, this figure has a very direct relationship with her environment, albeit in a different perspective. Her hands, feet and head are in direct contact with the ground. This work radiates an unprecedented vitality, serenity and humour.

 

         Pantus does not however suggest that there can always be love, happiness and lust, but also that accidents can happen, which are part of the darker side of life. An example of a calamity is The Tempest from 1991. This painting again depicts a naked woman now clinging to the neck of a horse. They are swimming in a stormy sea. In the background lightning strikes the wild water. A fortunate outcome for horse and rider is almost unthinkable. Another painting, illustrating impending doom, is Blindman's Buff (1992). Against the background of a dark forest a blindfolded woman is walking with outstretched hands (resembling a person sleepwalking) towards a lake. A dog and a bird witnesses this nocturnal scene, but their warnings go unheeded.

 

F.J.

 

 

1  Hazen kun je niet houden, Catalogue Op de huid bekeken, exhibition SBK Amsterdam 2001, page 25

2  idem

3  idem

4  R. Steenbergen,  'Helma Pantus', Cultureel Supplement NRC, 7 april 1995, page 4