Helen downie - Slimi
Who is Helen Downie & How did you start?
I began to paint eight years ago. I had always intended to begin painting I needed a space to open up to be able to commit myself to the practice and that didn’t happen for lots of reasons until I was 48. Once I began, it was all I wanted to do, everything else seemed to fade away and when I wasn’t painting I was waiting to paint.
My artworks are dreamlike, ritualistic, alternate realities, where all elements are given the same symbiotic value. The intention is to trigger a memory response, to experience once again the magic of seeing the world as a child although the themes are more adult.
Type of art you like to create?
Inspiration is all around and everywhere, information gets drawn in at a subconscious level. With lock down, I noticed a difference, something has changed in what bubbles up to the surface, there isn’t the interaction with people that trigger thoughts, so it all feels more internal. Maybe the lack of people has made me interact with trees more! So paintings of trees began to shine out on Instagram and I came across the work of Charles Burchfield. I don’t think I’ve ever loved paintings in the way I do his, they are everything I would like in my own work, they vibrate with a magical energy beyond the paper they are rendered on. I love that his work is on paper too, I so relate to it, how delicate it is yet so tough! Im drawn to artists that create complex reality’s, the work of Aya Takano, on first sight there’s a prettiness, look closer and a darkness lurks and but in a light way, I love that. Religious works of all kinds, the majesty and preciousness, they are so serious they sometimes become funny. Humour is important element to me in my own work.
How have you developed your career? How do you navigate the art world
The art world is so many places and a different and varied experience for each artist. My work has mostly been exhibited in museums; I’m outside of the gallery system, there are benefits and downsides; having to make all of the decisions myself can be overwhelming sometimes; although I run ideas through trusted friends who are in the art world. The benefit is a feeling of freedom to place my work where I would like it to be seen and exciting. I’m currently working in the NFT space, it’s been such fun collaborating with digital and soundscape artists, bringing other layers to the work, although I’ll always be an analogue artist, I like the feel of materials on my hands too much! It’s been an amazing experience to make a bridge between the two worlds of digital and analogue.
What themes do you pursue?
The themes morph from one work into the next. My work is an instinctive reaction to where I notice my focus is, what questions are being thrown open to me. It’s like an internal pressure, it reaches a certain point where all I can do is paint it out. My last two works have been a reaction to the objectification of female bodies and the taboo of our menstrual cycles, always though with the continual theme of impermanence and the ephemeral nature of being human.
Why painting? Because I can’t find the words and I seem more able to explore ideas, thoughts and emotions using materials onto paper.
What research do you do?
I go down rabbit holes with strange things that seem disconnected, until in the process of painting they pop out. I’d been looking into Rock Hudson and the events around his illness and death; he was treated in an appalling way by the British media when he was brave enough to be the first high profile person to say that he was dying of AIDS. I don’t think his reputation has ever fully recovered. The injustice and cruelty have stayed with me and it culminated in the painting The Last Question (The Triumphant Return of Rock Hudson) One element of the work is that Rock transforms into a beautiful pink horse and rides back into Hollywood to reclaim his crown. That’s the amazing thing about painting, I’m free to invent a whole new world and it becomes as real to me in the process as the one I’m standing in.