CATHOUSE – Development of a Pictorial Language

Cathouse is the existential work in the oeuvre of the artist Helmut Grill and impresses with its complexity in image building and cinematic narratives. The viewer is captivated by a heavenly surreal landscape and yet this wonderland hovers between dream apparition and reality. A world how the seeker would like to see it with his values and his visual logic. In this development process, the everyday is questioned in mystery again and again, especially by the chosen medium of photography, which Grill explores and analytically decomposes. With the installation of frames, landscapes are created that stage a cinematic narrative to the limit of the virtual world. By fitting frames, Grill developes – similar to a director – new structures of meaning.
Grill obtains his image repertoire from found material and the internet, which he adopted as an intrinsic vocabulary and which he re-contextualizes repeatedly in the magic worlds he created. The reading of a work of art can no longer clearly be determined which again allows the freedom of reception and the diversity of awareness. It is, according to Blumenberg, the essential ambiguity that determines the aesthetic object.1 Grills‘ works which oscillate between composition and ambiguity, arise as a pictorial human condition.

The seer becomes the seeker before CATHOUSE and finds the entry into the image through a massive tree on the left picture border. His plated filigree of ice branches opens up the views to a kind of “Garden of Eden”. Only a few amputated-like stumps protrude into the room and are the deceptive character of brutal destruction and transience. Tender branches covered in hoarfrost and last withered leaves banned in ice are lying over it in surreal beauty. Bright, colorful Christmas baubles are hanging in the branches and are elevating the moment of the surreal. Symptomatic of Grill‘s imagery is the humorous treatment of taken out of context image attributes, which lead to the interpretation of dreams and the awakening of childhood memories of Christmas or the anticipation of this season.
The Contemplater goes further in search of clues and remains at the abandoned swing hanging in the tree, which allows children moments of bliss and freedom as if they were flying. Misleading in this wondrous garden is a warning label attached to the tree: “Children without supervision of a parent or guardian will be sold to the circus.” Another ominous moment is induced, danger seems to lurk. Toy blocks and a colorful iridescent steam train are lying around abandoned on the floor tramped by children’s feet. The connotation “Circus” brings back new associations and like in the theater it produces a set of illogical scenarios that seem to be dissolved in action, place and time. 2

The lioness, a classic entertainment repertoire of the circus, appears under the tree as the watcher, a rapt instance who is spying on the playground, or even on the thoughts of the beholder? From her the view leeds into the distance through a hilly landscape in mist to a house above which the title of the work CATHOUSE is glowing in neon writing.

Despite the closed shutters the house looks like a place of refuge. Inviting to stay and yet isolated from the outside world to enjoy moments of happiness and another reality of life. The ironic questioning dealing with the symbolic letters “CATHOUSE” again is characteristic of Grill. Loosely translated as ‚cage‘ for the wild cat under the tree and at the same time hinting at the free lusts, it stirs up new fantasies. Under the same title, the American TV station, HBO, documented the lives of young girls in the brothel Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada in a weekly series.
Committed to formal composition, CATHOUSE finds its male counterpoint in the tiny figure of the hero `Superman’ and his emblem sprayed on the tree trunk. The casting of the genders is embedded in a humorous way into a universal narrative.

Above the door of the CATHOUSE one can read, albeit slightly blurred, the lettering `Kepos’. A reference to Epicurus and his philosophy that was not to be seen as scientific research, but rather had the goal to be a philosophical doctrine to let people perceive their existence as lucky – with absolute composure and a lasting inner joy.
Therefore the school of the garden, in which the philosopher gathered with his supporters, is called `Kepos’. The Epicurean doctrine seeks to gain permanent love of life and peace of mind and to resist fear, pain and desire. In particular, the fear of God as a superstition and also the fear of death, Epicurus declined radically. It is as if Grill is picking up this fragment of the doctrine with the symbols of world religions via the side entrance. The Star of David, Crescent and Cross are lined up next to each other and are emblazoned on the facade like warning or prohibition signs. Through the negation of religion it subtly indicates a religious tolerance, which in today’s world is repeatedly encountered with brutality or even war. The artist questions the world events with its dramatization both in terms of subjects and issues as well as the symbolism contained in it.
Grill does not depict reality, but realizes images that develop within a dream and allow to continue to dream. As a visual poet, he stages a wonderland that the viewer enters and which opens them plenty of scope for their own wishful thinking and narratives.

Dr. Isabella Goebel
Initiator munichmodern
Curator Kunsthaus der Kitzbüheler Alpen

1 Blumenberg, Hans: Die essentielle Vieldeutigkeit des ästhetischen Gegenstandes, in:
Aller, Jan (Hrsg.): Proceedings oft he fifth International congress of aesthetics, Den Haag
1986. S. 64-70.
2 Vgl. Esslin, Martin: Das Theater des Absurden, Frankfurt a. M. 1964.