‘Art is contemplation of the world in a state of grace and imaginatively reflecting that subjective understanding’.
Abstract Artist Helen Stevenson creates artwork from her imagination. She describes the process as a ‘creative communication of complex ideas and images’, making sense of the ‘chaos’ in her brain. We meet up one rain-soaked morning in Beeston, over a cup of tea and a Cherry Bakewell, to talk about the direction Helen has taken with her art and the process of creating each vibrant piece, We discuss how the representational nature of less figurative art can make it more accessible as the viewer can choose to interpret it their own way. It certainly has universal appeal.
I first met Helen when we collaborated on the 2015 I Love Beeston Art Trail, which involved me and a team of willing volunteers folding hundreds of origami butterflies. Kaleidoscopes of these pretty paper butterflies created a trail up and down the High Road and Wollaton Road which sat well with the art on display in participating local businesses. It was magic! At that time she was working with the Beeston BID team, which was brought in to Beeston to support and help the growth of the town and the businesses through the delivery of community events and by providing important communication and developmental links.
Helen was so inspired by the Belper Arts Trail, she wanted to co-ordinate an art trail which was inclusive of all types of arts and crafts and showcased in local businesses. This included puppeteers, local photographers, artists, textile artists, knitters, poetry, crafts and children’s workshops – as readers of this column will know, Beeston has a considerable community of amazing artisans.
Like many school leavers in the 80s, Helen was steered towards vocational training and attended technical college aged 17, but repetition and the feeling of never getting anywhere didn’t suit her at all. She feels her early years were about striving to find her niche, but finding herself singlehandedly raising her daughter there were many obstacles in her path. In those days it was difficult to find part-time employment to provide balance necessary to support a child and earn a living.
Undeterred, Helen chose to work on her interests and study, successfully completing both a Transactional Analysis and an Access Course whilst Emily was a toddler. This led to her undertaking a degree course at Nottingham University and graduating with a Geography BA Hons. Whilst volunteering at Oxfam, Helen fed her creative side with an inclusive part-time ceramics class where her daughter was encouraged to explore the joys of making with clay too. A new relationship, a new home and passing her driving test opened her world up even further.
By the year 2000 Helen was working part-time at M&S and had embarked on a part-time Fine Art Degree, which she embraced now the realisation that she flourished better as a creative being had become clear. Superseding her role as a retail assistant, Helen found her job at Beeston Library a much better environment to utilise her skills. She enjoyed working with books, her colleagues and the visiting public and especially loved the children’s department, taking the opportunity to draw large characters from popular books on the walls.
After graduating, she found her niche in Harrington Mill Studios which housed approximately sixteen artists, who exhibited work in Singapore, Athens and France. Being able to spend time in her studio is liberating. Since the converted lace factory changed hands and the studio closed, Helen set up a smaller art space, which now houses six artists and is called Edge2 Studios. She tells me that the studio is her ‘safe space’ and going there one day a week is her ‘salvation.’ Helen. and fellow Edge2 Studio’s artist Louise Garland, recently delivered a workshop called ‘Portraits and Prosecco’ to the local Beeston W.I. where the women enjoyed drawing portraits of each other under their expert guidance.
She talks enthusiastically about the concept of ‘art communicating complex idea and complex images.’ She enjoys giving the viewer control over what they see in her work, putting their own interpretation on it. What do you take from it? How does it make you feel? She sees her art as a ‘creative communication of her chaos’ a visual resolution. She finds inspiration in ‘the accidental patterns that humans or nature have formed through their different processes.’
Helen’s featured work is a fine example of ‘abstraction for open interpretation’. It’s a story, or lots of little stories, framed in within a frame. A carnival of colour, I am impressed by the depth she has created in the two dimensional space, I also struck by how expandable the image is and imagine it printed on a sumptuous roll of wallpaper. Studying the painting on my laptop screen, I suddenly get a sense that I am soaring above, and looking down on bustling scene. There is something slightly off-balance in the composition, but at the same time I start to see order within the dots and boxes.
Once Helen reveals that the title is ‘Summertime’ I begin to see smooth circles as bubbles floating over the tweedy textured background that at once becomes a magnified medley of multicoloured particles of sand. I see the handle of a blue spade, beside a bucket with a white water spray under the handle and three sticks of candyfloss to the right hand side. I can’t find the lazy bee that is making it’s way across from the top right but I feel it is there somewhere, pollinating the flower heads. The swarms of white arrowheads are reminiscent of insects but also bring to mind a refreshing ocean spray on a hot summer day, and if that’s a deep blue pool at the top, I am diving right in.
We talk about other recent pieces, some of them an emotional response to ‘this crazy world.’. Satirical and poignant I see a woman pushing her shopping trolley into the abyss, the ever present race against the clock and a nod to our obsessions with worshipping false idols. Well at least that’s what I see.
Helen also talks animatedly about a recent WI workshop she delivered with fellow artist which she feels empowered many of the women to realise their inner artistic talent. Her words echo a long held belief of mine, that many of us cease to see ourselves as true creatives because of bad experiences as a child. Their confidence was lost along with their uninhibited imaginations.
What is so powerful about art is that there are no wrong answers; it gives us the freedom to express ourselves freely without censorship.
You can find more of Helen’s work on
Helen Stevenson (@helenartscom) • Instagram photos and videos