After a wood sculptor education, Hannes Helmke (born 1967) studied four semester interior design since he could no longer identify with classical sculpting. Following Helmke studied at the “Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences” to become an art teacher. There, however, he found his way back to sculpting and decided to attend postgraduate studies in free art which he completed in the summer of 1998.

Since then Hannes Helmke lives and works as a freelance sculptor in Cologne. He spends the summer months on the North Sea island Spiekeroog, where the prevailing nativeness and freedom in daily life, the being in the open countryside, are his most significant forces and source of inspiration. All designs are created on Spiekeroog and implemented in bronze in Cologne.


The artistic theme of Hannes Helmke is the individual and his position in the world. The corpus as an expression of the self – being and self-perceiving. In the choice of motifs, the artist does not work from an intellectual standpoint but much rather acquires his sculptures from a feeling. At the beginning of his artistic involvement were big feet and elongated bodies, and only afterward the question arose: Why this shape and not others? Helmke’s original inspiration was the long-drawn evening shadows of the human form. Albeit the derived figures are not to be seen as shadowy figures or spirits in the mystical sense but as characters.

The most noticeable aspect of Hannes Helmke’s figures are probably their feet, as they provide a seemingly solid connection to the earth. These carry the burden of the legs, the body, the mind. How do people stand in life? How do individuals present themselves to the world, in observed and unobserved moments, alone and in groups or in masses? “Who stands, has to face” says Hannes Helmke. For Helmke feet and legs represent the acting human being, while the upper body parts stand for the intellectual. The vivid ears symbolize a connection with the world, the perceiving, as well as the acting big hands. With the absence of faces, Helmke’s desire for the greatest possible association of the viewer becomes apparent. He does not want to portray in any case. In a conscious decision the artists figures initially had no head, because the viewers eye automatically moved there, in this way, he is trying to communicate with his figures.

In recent years, Helmke’s figures have changed. At first they were torsos without arms, the legs were extremely over length. Later, the bodies were becoming more realistic. The works of Helmke express an affectivity, his sculptures are a reflection of one’s own feelings. Therefore, in the first years of creation, they logically presented men in different frames of mind and moments of life exclusively. Over the years, the men have lost their lean static rigor and became more physical and sensual. In their nature, they embody moods and phases of life and in this respect in some way reflect the personality of their creator.

While dealing with the subject of man, the woman could not be left out, Hannes Helmke regards them as a “counterpart”. For him, the woman is synonymous with words such as mother, friend, earth, warmth, security and sensuality. Helmke as a man does not approach her with his own feeling, but with his perception from the outside. The wide basin, the curved, rounded forms are realizations of the inner image that he has of the woman, they are generally valid expressions. Every person – be it man or woman – sees themself as the center of the world and must face again and again that he is only one of many parts of a vast crowd. In this diversity lies the creative material for Hannes Helmke’s art.


Hannes Helmke’s technique is modeling by applying new layers of material and therefore not erosive. His materials are mainly wax, clay, wire, plaster, but this can change during the work process. The up to two meters (6,6 feet) tall sculptures are implementations of smaller models. A new figure is not based on a preparatory sketch. The work begins directly as a three-dimensional object. It is formed and changed, until the feeling of the sculptor and the expression of the figure match.

The freedom of art and artists always comes first in the creative process. Hannes Helmke uses easily moldable wax for his small figures, which he applies in small batches on a wire frame. Large figures are formed through applying clay on a heavy wire construction. When the character has its final shape, a two- or multi-part silicone gypsum mold is made.

Subsequently the mold parts are separately coated on the inside with a thin layer of wax. Then they are combined and filled with liquid wax and pivoted. After cooling, the mold is opened and the wax figure is retouched. Large figures are cut into smaller segments. Now wax sprues (casting channels) are attached. The prepared molds are then immersed in a liquid fireclay mass. When burning the fireclay, the wax flows out.

In the resulting cavity, the 1200° Celsius (2192° Fahrenheit) hot liquid bronze is poured. After the bronze has cooled off, the fireclay shell is removed and the figure sandblasted. Large figures must be welded together. The sprues get removed and the figure retouched. Finally, it is heated and patinated with a sulfur solution. Then the bronze gets cleaned with steel wool and a finishing waxing.

Art Historian
Dr. phil. Christiane Schmidt