The south of Pölbitz, the residential district of Zwickau to the north of the city center and the Moritzkirche which dominates the district can be seen from years around the turn of the penultimate century. Not only architectural styles, the Wilhelminian style, Art Nouveau, expressionism, shape the streetscape, but also the fact that many corners of houses, …

The south of Pölbitz, the residential district of Zwickau to the north of the city center and the Moritzkirche which dominates the district can be seen from years around the turn of the penultimate century. Not only the architectural styles, the Wilhelminian style, the Art Nouveau, the expressionism, characterize the street scene, but also the fact that many corners of the house, as at the time, welcome small shops. Could accommodate, at least. Not all of them, but most of these rooms, once created for local supplies or gastronomy, in the socially mixed neighborhood are now empty. There is still a florist, a hairdresser, one or the other firm, insurance, real estate, physiotherapy. But that’s about all. Or rather: it was. For a few weeks now, something new has been happening for Zwickau in the previously orphaned little corner store on the ground floor of the brilliantly clinker house Heinrich-Heine-Straße32. “Unterart” can be read in large white stickers on the two large shop windows at Heinrich-Heine- and Friedrich-Engels-Straße.

Flashback, March 2020: Like an affliction still difficult to assess at this time, the coronavirus has landed in Germany and largely halted social life. Also at the Plauen-Zwickau theater. Tino Helbig is working on it. Suddenly, there is as little to do for the longtime head of the costume store as there is for the rest of the professionals on the stage.

“It’s usually a 40-hour job,” says Helbig, who has also been involved in local politics and refugee aid for several years. Among all the activities of the 54-year-old man, extraordinarily well connected in the region, a facet of his personality has long been buried: the artistic and the creation. According to his own statement, Helbig has been making art for 30 years. In Chemnitz, after the fall of the Wall, he worked in several artist groups in the area of ​​the Alternative Youth Center (AJZ), then appeared in Plauen. He was thinking about all of this at the time. He and her husband, opera singer Michael Simmen, were not only condemned to professional inactivity. During the pandemic, they also had to be quarantined twice for 14 days each. “For us, it was important that the days continue to be structured. Get up at 6:30 am, time to do things together, time for yourself.” And for Tino Helbig, that also meant: it’s time to get creative again. In a wide variety of techniques, preferably with everyday materials. Wood, cardboard, roofing felt, tar, sand, fabric. Numerous series with related motifs, partly abstract or alienated, deformed human figures, profiles of confronting faces, monochrome motifs have since emerged. Not only in frames on paper, not only painted, but also modeled in the third dimension. Part of the uniqueness of his works is that they make sense no matter how you hang them. Helbig also works with ceramics, which a colleague in the costume workshop burns for him for a fee. In the form of cut-out papier-mâché heads, he gives a glimpse into the intellectual life of his fellows, currently tackles the problem of fast fashion with a series in which he transforms used clothes into material images and experiments with an art object. .

What Helbig does not only have a hand and a foot, as Klaus Fischer of the local association “Friends of Current Art” attests. Man is also very productive. So much so that the spacious apartment he shared with her husband quickly became too small for his artistic production. But as a mess of art, stuck between his own works, he didn’t want to end. “Michael and I independently came up with the idea almost at the same time that I should look for a store for this.”

It had been almost a year since the first confinement. “When, I thought to myself, do you want to look for a space for your art, if not now?” Helbig said. For him, the answer was as clear as the question: “If I don’t do it now, I never will.” Probably the right thought even in a phase of life when one’s own retirement is far from imminent, but where one can think about how things might be after work: “I thought to myself that it gives life. after Corona.

By his own admission, it was then that he first noticed the store just a block away and 160 meters from his own apartment, which he had never seen bustling for a long time. twenty years he lived in the neighborhood. Everything else was a matter of form: “I called the broker on Monday, I had the key on Friday,” he says. In February, he began to furnish his new gallery studio “Unterart”, to equip it with artistic production for a whole year and to set up his creative activities there. This includes the express intention of establishing an open workshop where anyone can look over their shoulder and talk to them with a cup of coffee in hand. At Pentecost, he already took part in the “Art Open in Saxony” campaign with a sort of studio preview. The official opening took place a few weeks ago.

“I just want to show people what is possible in art,” says Helbig, who intends to offer classes and workshops in the gallery space, which is small but airy and bright. Pass on knowledge, ideas and tips that he himself has acquired in many painting and drawing lessons. Why didn’t he study art? “For that, I should have joined the army in the GDR. And there is nothing like it in my mind,” he said. This art can be fundamentally very lawless, he said he grew up with this knowledge in school. His art teacher in Chemnitz from fifth grade gave himself and his classmates all the freedom – until at one point, when Helbig was in third grade, the teacher had stopped coming to class overnight: “It was a bit strange”, remembers Tino Helbig.

Maybe you need to be when tackling a project like this. So far, Helbig is the only artist in Zwickau who presents himself in this way, with this presence and importance in the hometown of Max Pechstein. In his early days, he had already been active for several years within the association “Les Amis de l’Art Actuel”, but never peddled his first artistic ambitions there. “Basically I was like a desert waiting for the rain,” Helbig said, looking back. With the pandemic break, this rain has arrived. “I am very happy today,” he said. It’s brimming with ideas, and if you didn’t know that everything in this gallery is by the same artist, at least you wouldn’t think about it right away.

Another positive aspect: he can play freely – he is not under pressure to generate a certain turnover each month. The rent of the store, which corresponds to that of a small apartment, is the fixed cost of his hobby. Profit, as is usually the case with a hobby horse, is primarily intangible in nature. In the form of human contact: Because his studio and his work inevitably aroused the curiosity of both people who had never had contact with modern art and those who have always lacked it in their living environment. Friends and acquaintances on a constant basis.

The “Unterart” gallery, Heinrich-Heine-Straße 32 in Zwickau, is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3.30 p.m. to 7.00 p.m., Saturdays by appointment on 017643346216.