Joyful Escapism with Helen Hollemans

Joyful Escapism with Helen Hollemans

September 03, 2021

Born in Leeds (UK) in 1964, I attended Jacob Kramer Art College in the early 80's experimenting with different techniques from screen printing to woodwork. Since early childhood I created art in a variety of media, electing to deepen my knowledge at Manchester Polytechnic through a BA(Hons) in Design History. This allowed me to learn more about a multitude of artistic disciplines as well as developing skills in glassblowing, ceramics, metalwork, textiles and print media.


What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?

As a child I was always very creative and spent a great deal of time experimenting with crafts, but discovered a love of art at school which then drew me towards art college. There is such a sense of freedom with the expressive art I enjoy producing but that took some time for me to allow it to be expressed externally. The desire and need to be truly me was the main factor in eventually sharing my artworks.

How would you describe your own personal style?

Joyful escapist! My work is expressive, colourful and balanced and aims to transport the viewer and evoke an emotional reaction. Many pieces draw heavily on the negative space which helps to define the boundaries of a composition, yet push beyond that boundary, often using the black lines to do this and draw the image together.


What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?

I am driven by trying to simplify and filter the key essence of an impression, emotion or object, whether it is the perfection of a flower or how I felt during a trip. Expressing with colour is very important - how they merge, how they blend, how they overlap and how they can be dissected by simple black lines which all play into my pieces. The glorious uncertainty of how colours will react depending on pressure applied, positioning of the paint and how it responds to being moved on the paper or canvas is a great source of excitement.

My work has evolved from staccato lines creating movement as the layers deepen giving an almost 3D effect, to a softness and merging of colour. I am loving exploring the properties and results of dragging the paint at the moment, but expect this will evolve further into contrasts and connections in the image. I particularly want to explore more about how negative space can be utilised to drive contrast and interest to the composition.

What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?

My extensive travels have been a great source of inspiration in my work so far. Not just the destination and some of the amazing sites I have encountered, but the emotional aspects of a trip and the sense of adventure these experiences have given me. I very much see my work as escapist, but as there is no literal interpretation or imagery to see, it is almost like a personal expression that can be seen by me only. I always share the inspiration behind a piece to also encourage the imagination of the viewer to run wild and see their own interpretation of what the image is projecting to them. I simply have to create these images, I seem to have no option but to get them out!


Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?

My art teacher in high school, Mr James, was the one to encourage me and introduce me to different artists, particularly the Surrealist artists as I had been creating pieces which very much fell into that genre without knowing anything about Surrealism. Despite going on to study at art college, it wasn't until much later in life when my husband bought me an easel and materials and encouraged me to paint.

When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?

I prefer acrylic as I am far too impatient waiting for oil to dry! I have osteoarthritis in many joints, but it is particularly bad in my hands which means that trying to do detailed brush work or drawing is quite difficult and painful. I have therefore been driven to look for ways in which I can express myself on canvas and paper, and have found that old credit cards work very well for me along with rollers and squeegees.

When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

I have used my travel experiences as a source of inspiration from the joy and sense of adventure of discovering wonderful places and seeing new things. I also did a series inspired by the perfection of the abundant spring flowers in Andalucia and how I could extract the essence of the perfection and express that through colour and juxtaposition of lines.


Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?

It can be quite a painful process where you think there will never be an idea again. There is a sort of gestation process where I start to develop an idea or colour theme in my head, then all of a sudden, I just need to race into my studio and start producing.

Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work?

It is much more random than I would like, perhaps I need to be more disciplined with myself, but I am often just overtaken by an overwhelming need to produce work. I do all the practicalities of maintaining my website, photographing, communicating with other artists, preparing posts for Instagram etc, but I do try to have an art production day at least once a week.

When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?

When there is that overwhelming feeling that I just have to rush to my studio, I can often produce multiple pieces in quite a short space of time, only stopping when I run out of space for them to dry. I learnt not to put them under the table for extra space when our dog decided it was the perfect place to come for a sleep! We had a very colourful dog that day though!


How has your art evolved to be where it is today?

I feel I am much more confident as an artist now, and feel much stronger in producing what I love, not what I think people might accept. Of course I want people to enjoy my work, but I do think part of my evolution has been about an acceptance of myself, and confidence about what I do.

Which of your artworks are you most proud?

"Sunrise" was a 1m square canvas in oil, and one of the first of which I felt really proud. It is bold and bright and confident, and really reflected how I felt. It has a vibrant orange body with dark, almost calligraphic lines creating the central image and was one of the first I sold to a buyer in America.

Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?

Chiharu Shiota is prolific and so versatile and I admire her tenacity and bold approach to life through some traumatic times she faced and how she chose to express that in her work. My favourite pieces are her installations using the red thread and just seem to engulf and astound the viewer.

If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?

The modernist period with its varied clusters of constructivist, Bauhaus and futurist movements to name a few are hugely inspirational to me. Such a time of social upheaval and artists pushing the boundaries of so-called 'acceptable' art. How exciting to be a part of something so progressively different.

What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?

Social media!! Artists have the best opportunities to be discovered throughout the world than ever before, but it does also mean that to be successful in the global marketplace you need to be a master of photography, video, social media platforms and strategies as well as making websites, editing images etc. All rather mind blowing!


What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Remain true to your inspirations and art and don't be too swayed by social media expectations and gimmicks to get exposure for your work. Enjoy and explore the possibilities of "what if..." and push ideas to the limit, see what happens.

Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is there another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?

I love the work of Paul Klee and his very distinctive way of deconstructing and rebuilding images - "Castle and Sun" for example, stripping back an image to its most basic construction, creating an impression from shapes and colours. Although my work is more fluid and less representational, I am definitely drawn to the deconstructivist approach and bold angular imagery.


We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?

Definitely, knowing when it is finished can be tough, though I don't dwell too long and keep tweaking as many artists do. With my latest series of dragging paint, the main body can not be changed, it is what it is, and that is one aspect I am really enjoying about it. I have of course ended up painting over canvases in the past but all apart from one have ended up being discarded.

Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature?

Isn't that the beauty of art, each artist is entitled to share what they want, however they want, and it is up to the viewer to choose to accept or not. My driver is purely aesthetic, and how I can interpret something as personal as a feeling on a canvas.


What are you working on at the moment?

I'm experimenting with masking the background in different ways, drawing the paint across, then revealing the result as the mask is peeled away. It will be the next series of works I'll share.

Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?

I'm part of an artistic forum, collaborating and supporting each other. I have always been rather isolated by choice, but as my external expression and confidence has grown as part of my artistic journey, I have found great support in this open and collaborative environment.

When is your next exhibition? Is it a solo or group exhibition? Could you tell us a little about the exhibition, when and where it is?

I exhibited a piece in Milan earlier in the year, but as I am currently living between Spain and the Netherlands, establishing relationships with galleries gives a practical challenge for exhibiting at the moment.

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