There is nothing “still life” about Grace Helmer’s paintings. The Camberwell College of Arts illustrator adopted oil paints over traditional drawing modes as her narrative vehicle of impossibly rich, dimensional scenes and abstractions. The permanence of the paint compliments the nature of text – especially the likes of Primo Levi – whose stories frequently reach beyond literal interpretation but are wonderfully figurative nonetheless.
Grace applies heavy consideration to her compositions; adopting comic book panelling in one instant and an uncommon landscape perspective in the next, in each case bearing in mind a unique readers experience. The subjects of each frame are frequently the product of some intense research into every aspect of the brief or text, but then, as she freely admits, this will all be promptly forgotten as the painting takes over.
When telling us a little more about herself she had this to say: “I highly rate working in the studio with others so usually when I’m working I’m surrounded by people making stupid jokes and binge-eating biscuits.”
Why or who or what made you go to art school?
I’m from Brighton where you can’t swing a paintbrush without hitting an art student so I never really considered doing anything else. I feel very lucky in that going to art school wasn’t a conscious decision, it just sort of happened without having to think about it.
What’s the best mistake you made when you were studying?
A few times I was advised by tutors not to paint but ignored them and persevered. Their advice was so valuable and ignoring it could quite easily have been a mistake – my first paintings were definitely a bit rubbish – but learning to defend my ideas and developing a bit of self-belief was very important.
If you could show you your work to one person, who would you choose and what would you show them?
I asked my mum and she said I should pick Primo Levi. It would’ve been nice to show him the books I made based on his short stories, or just to thank him for writing them.
Can you give us one prediction about your work for the next year?
Absolutely no idea. I want to carry on oil painting. I want to try and paint a different kind of haircut. I want to be making work in a shared studio with some friends from college, eating biscuits, and organising something.
What’s the best thing you saw in the last three years?
Anything and everything I saw in Japan last summer. A small group from our class went to Kyoto and then Tokyo to film a documentary about Manga, as part of a project with Kyoto Seika University. In one of the hostels we stayed in we discovered “Woody Unbalance”, previously known as Jenga. My main ambition is to go back there and play it again.
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