I have always loved painting, color, pattern, since I was a little girl. I grew up in a house full of gorgeous rugs, sculpture, paintings, that my parents collected mainly from Iraq and Lebanon, that surely seeped into my conscious and helped shape my idea of beauty and the possibilities of becoming an artist one day.
Yes, living in the US for over 20 years now, my ties to the Middle East remain stronger than ever, Apart from having family and friends that live there, I remain committed to keeping the dialogue open between the East and West, to further mutual understanding and respect for one another. To create work that counters stereotypes and generalizations of one another. And of course reconnecting with family and friends on return trips home.
I first learned to use gouache (an opaque watercolor) in my studies at Syracuse University, in New York. Despite being a difficult paint to master, I found it allowed me the beautiful, pure and clean colors I wanted to use in my paintings. When used the way I intend to use it, which is very opaque and to show very few brushstrokes if possible, it creates a flatness and sort of a velvety finish that I love. I also feel that after all these years of primarily using this pigment, I can control (mostly!!) what happens on my board.
I feel that as an artist, I have a responsibility to visually “talk” about the world I live in, the world we live in. Art can reach people in a way that is unattainable from for example, a political speech which does not touch the nerves of people so that they can look at the issues surrounding, say immigration, genocide, subjugation, imprisonment, with new eyes. I feel that art can create that empathy and compassion that we need to help change the world we are living for the better. Art can seep into the cracks and fissures of our minds and souls, and can begin to sow the seeds of change. That is my hope surely in pursuing my own work.
Wow, this is kind of tough to answer. I have never really “fit in” to one style or another. Surely not abstract, though not realistic either, and not really a naïve style of painting. It seems that the paint I have chosen to use also has certain limitations that in a way dictate my style to some extent. In a way limiting but in another way, forces me to create works that challenge those limitations of the paint. And as I mentioned earlier, I think growing up in the Middle East, surrounded by pattern and color, definitely inspired my desire to refer to that kind of beauty in my work.
Well, I will mention here that the paint I have grown to love, gouache, affords the most gorgeous color when mixed, and the clean, bright color that results is like no other! I do not find this intensity in acrylic paint.
The pandemic has been a double-sided period of time for me as an artist. On the one hand, we create work for people to see, for people to possibly see an issue from another’s point of view. Stepping into another’s shoes. We hope our work is exhibited in museums and galleries. We want to share our work with you. We want to talk about it, have that dialogue about those issues we find important. The pandemic has basically brought this to a halt. Much is virtual at this point which is not the same as seeing the work in person and interacting with it in real life as opposed to the virtual screen. On the other hand, the pandemic has allowed me much more time to be in the studio working, thinking and still trying to reach my viewer. “Muffled” combines the double pandemic if you will, we are experiencing now.
I really hope for that dialogue to occur as I mentioned in a previous question. I feel that even if the viewer approaches my painting with preformed ideas of the Arab world or vice versa, this dialogue can ensue, therefore that tiny step taken towards understanding or seeing another point of view, I have been successful. It is only after this sort of “awakening” that we can create the empathy so desperately needed in this world, across this world. Empathy, that is what I hope to achieve in my viewer.
The Palestinian artist, Kamal Bulatta, the Lebanese artist, Wajih Nahle, and the Iraqi artists, Muhammad Ghani and Jawad Saleem.
Oh my goodness!!! I can feel that incredible joy right now as I answer your question! I was in my studio when I got “the call.” I had been on pins and needles waiting to hear back to see if my work had been selected or not. The second I got that call, I began jumping around in my studio, screaming for joy!!! I think even my kitty cat knew how excited I was and what an enormous and significant honor it was to have my work selected by both President Obama and Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton! Wow!!!!
What is next, well, I continue to work on paintings that reflect this time we are all going through. I also am continuing my work on the issues of war and displacement and those lasting effects on people everywhere. I realize many of these issues are off the front pages of newspapers, but it is more important than ever to remain a voice for the voiceless. Specifically women and children.Click here for Helen's full artwork selection on Emergeast!