Helmut Smits

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Helmut Smits is a unique artist who combines readymade sculpture and assemblage, conceptualism, the environment, design and film to transmit his ideas to a wider audience. His work possess an infantile playfulness that is both refreshing yet seemingly obvious. Above all, his artworks are inherently clever observations that disrupt our perception of the everyday. Born in 1974, Helmut grew up in Roosendaal, The Netherlands, and is now based in the historic architectural capital of Rotterdam.

At 17 Helmut dropped out of school and began working nine to five at his father’s printing house, where “the plan” was to follow in the family footsteps. After four years working with his father, Helmut had an epiphany of sorts and applied to art school. It is worth noting that prior to his degree at ‘s-Hertogenbosch Academy for Visual Arts in 1997, Helmut had never been to a gallery, or even a museum for that matter. This could somehow shed some light on his approach to work – the joyful naiveté, the humour and contradiction ever present in his ideas.  

Above: Two Beams Saying HI, 2009
Below left: Universal Flag, 2008
Below right: Untiled, 2014

Humour is not something that I put in deliberately; it’s just there most of the time. It’s a really good way to communicate, so I’m glad that it works that way for me.

Above: Full Colour, 2008 (CMYK soft drinks)
Below: Nascar, 2004 (shopping & garbage bags, plastic foil, tape, air)

All my works are based on concepts. When I start thinking about a new idea I try to go back to the basis and think from that point on, looking for contradictions, leaving everything open and possible.

Above: Skirting Board Sunset, 2008
Below left: Always Coca-Cola, 2008 (A plant that is only to be given Coca-Cola)
Below right: Plant Lamps, 2008

Commissioned by Euro Land Art, “Nature in the Netherlands” is a series works where large-scale replicate the shape of typical plant labels, each with corresponding prints on the front identifying the particular plant species. Installed in the nature reserve Het Bossche Broek, the works pay attention to the richness of flora in The Netherlands, and questions the very notion of Dutch “nature”. 

I use the medium that best suits the idea, so it can basically be anything: a sculpture, a music piece, a performance… There is no particular reason that many works are outdoors (as far as I know).

I have two kids: a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old son. They keep me from my work but they also inspire me. They look at the world as only children can—they can think more freely than grown-ups, if you know what I mean. They say knowledge is power but there is also something lost there.

Above: Tree in Front of Billboard, 2004
Below: FLAMMA, 2008 (A Basic Need)

“The thought of people burning their furniture during the war so they could keep warm and cook formed the inspiration for FLAMMA. FLAMMA harks back to one of humanity’s basic needs: making fire. I thought it would be interesting to go into IKEA as if I was a primitive human being and make fire using products found there. The project also fits the back-to-basics image of IKEA and the Swedish lifestyle. IKEA does not, however, sell lighters or matches.”

Berlin, Bears and Refugees