Meet narrative figure painter and Rhode Island School of Design teacher Helena Wurzel. Helena utilizes color, shape and the emotional responses evoked by these elements to tell a story with each piece.
Tell me about your background. How did you come to be an artist?
I have always been an artist. There is a home video of my mother asking me what my favorite activity is at four years old, and I say “making art.” I discovered painting in college. My parents were very supportive and encouraged me to follow my own path.
What is your studio like?
My studio is in my home. I have a large desk, a paper storage rack, a palette table on wheels, and a storage closet. It’s a small space so I keep it organized and clean. I put large cork boards on the walls so that I can hang my canvases all around the room and see what I am working on.
What are the tools of your trade and why do you prefer these mediums?
I mostly use oil paint. There is nothing else like it. It’s slow drying so it allows for a lot of freedom in the process of painting. I spend a lot of time mixing and searching for color and I can leave my paint out for a few days before it starts to dry. It’s so fun to make a mess and then find your way out of it.
What are the major influences behind your work?
My life and the people in it. I paint about what is around me: the space I live in, the stories my friends tell me, the songs that are on the radio, the book I am reading, the TV show I am watching, the man I am dating, the things that catch my eye when I look at them. My work changes as my life changes, and I don’t think that will ever stop.
What keeps you motivated/inspired?
Motivation is an internal drive and need. No one but me would care if I stopped painting, but I really care. With every new painting there is a new problem to solve and a new thing to know.
How do you take a concept from an idea to a finished piece of artwork? Please describe your creative process.
I usually write a lot of things down. My notebook is mostly just a list of words. I list anything that moves me from a song lyric, something I read, something a friend says, etc. I spend a lot of time thinking about what something looks like/feels like and I go from there. For example, I made a body of work about the ambiguous nature of intimate relationships and grey was the primary color world for this series. The color needed to fuse with the subject matter and mood I was trying to capture. Grey felt right because “shades of grey” directly refer to lack of clarity or the space in between black and white. I visualize my concepts through a combination of intuition and literal meanings.
I usually paint the most during my vacation time—winter and summer breaks. During these times, I wake up and walk into my studio. There is nothing better than being in a groove with your work—the time passes so quickly.
Do you have a favorite piece of art or project that you’ve created? Why does it stand out to you?
I do like some paintings more than others, but I don’t have a favorite. Once I am done making something I am already excited about working on the next painting.
What artists do you feel a kinship with? Whose work do you respond to?
I love Alex Katz. I have always liked his style and how he abbreviates form. I have a similar graphic quality to my work. However, our content is different and my imagery is more feminine. My other two major influences are Bonnard and Vuillard. Through looking at both of their works I learned so much about painting and how to use color.
Who are some other creatives you admire?
There are so many… Isabel Allende and Alice Hoffman are two writers that I follow, Marlene Dumas is another favorite painter, Beyonce, and everyone else who is out there trying to make something beautiful.
What are you presently working on? Are there any new projects in the works, or things you are interested in creating in the future?
I have a couple paintings that I am thinking about. As for the future, I won’t know until I get there. I never know what I will be making in the next yea, it just happens through working.
Where can our readers find more of your work and purchase pieces?
My website is: www.helenawurzel.com. Any piece that is not already in a private collection is available for purchase. I also have a series of limited edition archival prints for sale at 20 x 200. They make art affordable for everyone.
Have a favorite artist or creative you’d like to see profiled? Email me!