WHY I MAKE ART + WHAT MY ART IS ABOUT

I’ve always found January to be a reflective month. And this month I’ve found myself thinking about why I make art and what my art is about. You may think these questions would have quite obvious answers, that as an artist I would be able to answer them simply and straightforwardly. Well, it turns out I can’t, but I am enjoying trying. The answers come in fragments and partial pieces, which I have tried to patchwork together for you here.

Helen Wells colourful and patterned art

I share these thoughts in the hope that they might help you to think about your own creativity and why you make what you make. That perhaps in unravelling my own areas of inquisitiveness it may prompt you to question what makes you curious, intrigued and fascinated. Because, once you’ve thought about and identified those threads of curiosity, it is so much easier to follow them…

WHY I MAKE ART

In making art I feel I am better able to understand myself. I believe that in making art I meet myself. Creating something from nothing is a way of unlocking something within me which I may not have the ability to articulate or understand on a purely intellectual plane. In creating art I am better able to understand my place in the world. It allows me to perhaps see the world through a more considered lens and to understand the things that captivate me, expand me and give me pleasure.

Helen Wells Artist-16.jpg

In a previous blog post I’ve talked about the importance of creativity in my life and the joy it has brought to it.

Now I will endeavour to unpick the threads of that creativity and explore a few of the things that light me up and intrigue me. The things that my art is about:

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THE NATURAL WORLD

Ever since I was small I have had love affairs and obsessions with some of the magical occurrences in the natural world. From snow flake structures, to the colour and shapes of fossils or shells, the iridescence of feathers and fish scales to the patterns the sea makes in the sand. The architecture of an individual leaf to the magnitude and majesty of the night sky on a clear evening. I’ve always found these wonderful details inexplicable and fascinating. I find that the closer I look at these details the more unbelievable and beautiful they became. The complexity and beauty in the natural world is something I strive to celebrate and honour in my work.

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PATTERNS

When I was a child, we moved house when I was about four, I can very clearly recall the pattern of my bedroom wallpaper, the pattern on the curtains, the pattern on the stairs carpet, the pattern on our then neighbour’s biscuit tin, the patterns on my little skirts and dresses. it seems to me that I have always been obsessed with patterns, natural or engineered. When I was young I always wanted to be a textile designer, I just loved going to the haberdashery shop and seeing all the patterned fabrics nestled next to each other, somehow I loved the way the patterns clashed and danced with each other, a maximalist cacophony of pattern which made my heart sing. I’m still in love with pattern and frequently use patterns in my artwork. My living space is full of coloured carpets, embroidered cushions and painted jugs, it is not minimalist, but exuberant, cheerful and celebratory. My artwork is often the same.

THE DECORATIVE

I once had a rather bruising and humiliating entry-interview for a famous art college in London. They wanted me to justify the thought process behind my artwork to move it away from being ‘merely decorative.’ The interview was a disaster, but the dismissal of the decorative as meaningless and worthless made me curious. Why was it that decorative motifs are found in every society in history but are not considered fine art. It led me to do a lot of reading on folk art, outsider art, art forms which have historically been associated with women and therefore labelled craft and not high art. Now I am unapologetic about the decorative nature of my art work. I revel in it. I believe that the way we decorate our living spaces can affect how we feel and that a burst of colour, pattern and the ‘merely- decorative’ can bring joy, energy and contentment.

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I obviously have many more curiosities; colour and how different colours bring out different aspects in each other, the physicality of paint, the tactile nature of hand made art, how using multiple layers and mixing different mediums together create unusual and intriguing effects that make you want to look longer and see more. Perhaps I can expand on those areas on another occasion.

I hope in some small way these meandering words may make you ponder on what fascinates you and on what fires you up…