Helena Park learnt at art college that self-motivation is key. “You must become your own agenda-setter,” she says. “Stay true to what you want to make and follow whichever direction it takes you in.”
It’s a lesson that has served her well as she’s pursued her aim of being a working artist.
We met at The Other Art Fair, where Helena was showing her beautiful yet unsettling etchings and monoprints depicting scenes of monstrous hinterlands.
“Books have always been my biggest resource,” she says of her inspiration. “When drawing a new series of initial sketches I usually spread out a selection of books around me and pick and choose imagery which catches my interest.”
Much of her work is figurative, so existing images of people with expressive gestures “like an Egon Schiele painting or photographs of dynamic movement” are key to her process. “Ancient art is another inspiration, in particular Mayan, Anglo-Saxon Christian and Ancient Greek artworks,” she says. “I find that there’s a visceral and expressive quality to such works which transcends time and remains relevant to contemporary life.”
Helena enjoys examining her ideas, while protecting their ambiguity. “My concepts for new work are always vague and I like them to remain so,” she says. “This leaves room for me to keep exploring ways of creating a tangible conception of those ideas. I’m drawn to other artists who create a world within their art that’ both highly stylised and immediately recognisable as the artist’s own. This is something which I try to channel and in my own practise.”
This instinctual yet informed approach offers a dark dreaminess to Helena’s work, which often seems to be capturing images from the shadowy subconscious. “Particular figures often reoccur in many of my etchings,” she says. “I like to repeat certain characters in order to test whether they have staying power. In effect, I’m developing a core cast of players in the work. I like the idea that viewers will be able to recognise reoccurring characters throughout the etchings and that through this repetition the characters gain a significance.”
She builds up images drawing from her own rich imagination as well as through close observational study of the human body.
“A good example of these different attitudes would be the etchings; ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Morning Light’,” she says. “‘The Conversation’ exemplifies my imaginative or stylised approach whilst ‘Morning Light’ comes from my desire to move away from just distorting the human body but rather to make a study of it in it’s true form.”
Helena created her etching Morning Light by tracing a photograph she’d taken onto a soft-grounded zinc plate. “A soft-ground picks up any impressions you make onto the plate,” she says. “I placed my photograph on top of the grounded plate and with a pen drew the lines of her body. This process is unlike using a hard-ground which requires you to scratch through the waxy layers in order to create a line which can later be etched.”
Other surface marks and textures were added using sugar-lift and spit-bite – painting with acid onto an aquatint. “Through these textures I could convey a damaged or corroded appearance to the girl’s skin which was suggestive of some organism growing on her or perhaps acts of violence,” Helena says. “This particular print led to my making a whole series of further etchings and mono-prints all of which used the same female subject.”
Helena’s core aim is to create a sense of another world, “within which exists a cast of characters I am constantly building on and adding to. The series of etchings entitled ‘Hinterland’ are my largest explorations to date of such an imagined world. I hope to keep exploring this concept in my future work.”
The palpable darkness in Helena’s work seems to be directly at odds with her sunny personality. When I comment on this, Helena is surprised.
“It’s gratifying to hear that you think that I seem cheery, but I admit to occasionally suffering from spells of hanger and that at the times when I have missed lunch my sunny disposition has immediately clouded over,” she exclaims. “In such moments anyone unlucky enough to have be in my vicinity has certainly caught a glimpse of my stormier side.”
As it happens, Helena doesn’t regard her work “as just being unremittingly dark or grotesque. I think that there is a healthy dose of black humour in the work. This comic aspect is very important as it is this sense of humour which I utilise as a vehicle to convey sensitive topics or my personal emotions in an accessible way.”
Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com.