Featured Image: Side Ways Conversation, 22″ x 30″ , encaustic on panel, from the What We Carry Series
Hélène Farrar is a New England Wax member who lives and works in Maine. Recently, fellow NEW member, Stephanie Roberts-Camello interviewed Hélène about her work and inspiration.
Why are you an artist Helene?
When I went off to college, I planned to become a social worker and I really loved to sing. Although I was very intrigued with my sociology course work, I wasn’t challenged enough. When my voice just didn’t make the cut among my peers, I started shaking up my course load in the second year. I was completely naïve. The first drawing course hooked me from the get go. The act of drawing felt both familiar and challenging. I really couldn’t stop. I am still fiercely passionate about making work.
How do your paintings evolve?
It all begins with ideas. Though I live in this completely beautiful backyard of Maine with an incredibly rich history in landscape painting, it’s not enough for me to get out there and draw or paint. I want more from my art. The ideas come through silence and stimulation. When I’m walking, driving a little distance, or just before sleep, the ideas will come. I always have a pen and paper nearby to write them down. Some ideas need to gestate a long, long time, such as the series What We Carry, which has engaged me for the past few years.
There is nothing better than going for a bike ride on a summer evening, and after a walk through the cleared path to the big swamp behind our house, I feel ready to journal out all of the stuff in my head. Other times I travel somewhere with an urban feel and sit in coffee shops with my sketchbook, read, and watch people. All of my paintings begin with journaling and very loose sketches.
Have you had a mentor along the way?
It’s been incredibly important to me to have an ongoing relationship with artist Jan ter Weele. Jan is an abstract artist who I met twenty odd years ago in a slight fight over a book on Bonnard. Initially, Jan gave me a lot of technical advice and lectures – – – – yes, lectures on color, texture, form. But later, he was the one to encourage me to head to grad school and leave teaching in public schools. We now meet for lunch, share stories of the art world, and recently had a small exhibition of our works together in Waterville, Maine.
My disciplined art practice would not exist without help and support from my family. There are lots of balls to juggle being a mother, wife, and artist, and their help comes in all shapes and sizes.
I recently ran a summer art camp for middle-aged kids where I brought them to all kinds of neat places locally, including the Colby College Museum of Art. My husband Stan acted as both chauffeur and chaperone the while the children and I were drawing at the museum and learning about Bernard Langlais, etc. When I started selling my work in art fairs last summer, my daughter pitched in with labeling artwork, running to restock coffee, and bringing me chocolate. Luckily our dog Buddy reminds me to take breaks.
There is a big network of people who support me and I am incredibly grateful.
What are you working on now and what are you trying to achieve with these new paintings?
A few years ago, I salvaged an old box of turn-of-the-century paper dolls found in the barn that is now my studio. Most of them are just the costumes and I often pull the box from my shelf and rearrange them on my desk. They feel like fragments. I began small studies of a hand or a dress while reading about imaginative landscapes by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. I was drawn into their patterns, heavy surface, and the relationships between figure and ground. I began painting being open to drips, collaging my drawings into the wax, and reworking the surface. The paper dolls are primarily female and as I painted, I began to fabricate stories in my head of these young women. Details are left out intentionally. I’d like these works to stir up questions such as: Am I a feminist? What does it mean to be feminine? What does it mean to be called a Feminist?
These works will be on exhibit along work by friends, colleagues, and fellow NEW members Otty Merrill and Ruth Sack, in an exhibit titled Riff-Raff in late July through early August at the Granite Gallery in Tenant’s Harbor, Maine.