Helen Young’s beautiful watercolours bring to life the many sights that capture this artist’s imagination. Helen says painting has changed her life, and her love for her craft is evident in her work. Visit the Nexus Gallery in Bellingen from October 14 until November 9 to view an amazing exhibition of Helen’s work, titled Inspiration Everywhere.
Where are you and your studio based, and how long have you lived in the area?
Norman, my husband, and I decided on a ‘sea change’ almost three years ago, and moved to Korora, Coffs Harbour.
On my husband’s retirement twenty three years ago, we made a ‘tree change’ (before the word was coined, I think) from Sydney to Bathurst. We loved Bathurst, but after spending the winter months almost every year in the Western Australian goldfields, far from Bathurst snow and chill winds, we decided to move to beautiful, sunny Coffs … more of a ‘climate change’! And it has turned out to be a wonderful, colourful place to paint.
When did you first discover you had an interest in, and talent for, art?
I have always had a casual interest in creating art and spent several years as a fabric designer (the prints on fabric and designs in jumper knits), though untrained. Just lucky!
In 1993, Norman and I made our first trip to the W.A. goldfields, and subsequently the gold bearing areas in every mainland state and territory, Norman detecting for gold, and me taking the opportunity of long hours on my own in a caravan in the bush, to explore painting. I chose watercolour as my medium, because of ease of use in a confined space (caravan 10’6”) and my lack of experience and confidence. I was fortunate in that I could paint 8 hours a day every day, and I found my efforts found favour.
What professional training/instruction have you had in art, and how has this helped you grow as an artist?
Prior to the first trip to W.A. I attended a Community College evening course, for 8 nights, where students were introduced to 4 colours and their use … a basic course, but marvellous. It gave me an understanding of mixing colour and application and a realisation I wanted to paint the world as we see it, in all its amazing variety.
What has inspired you to be creative over the years?
My initial inspiration came from the places we visited following the gold trail … small remote villages and communities, people of many races, varied talents and differing experiences, colourful scenery (red dirt and jungle), wildflowers, and native bird and animal life.
What medium do you use to create with most often now – and why this particular medium?
The only medium I work in is watercolour. With it one can paint the clearest see-through water in a pond, or the most dramatic opaque black created by mixing only three colours.
Looking at some of your paintings, you appear to have a keen eye for textural detail. How important is this element to your work?
Texture, whether it be the aged skin of an elderly person caught in a portrait, or the fur of a koala, is as important to me as light catching on a smooth leaf in a jungle or the claw of a bird. Both give life to a painting.
How has painting changed your life?
My discovery of a love of painting has enriched my life in several ways. I can’t help but see the detail in a landscape, the cloud shapes in the sky, the sun slanting on the ocean, the darkness of shadow in a glossy green rain forest. I notice the wonderful differences in faces, the smooth blush of a child’s face and the life that has been lived evident in that of the elderly. It’s made me really ‘see’.
As we travelled 4 – 5 months each year, my art gave me an introduction to people I otherwise would not have met. I exhibited at an art show at Clermont, Queensland – my work initially being rejected, as it was judged to be photography. Through this contact I was given the opportunity to be involved with the Year 12 art class at the local high school … a lot of fun!
At Halls Creek, Western Australia, I was invited to paint in the air conditioned Lodge frequented by tourists. Here, I heard the stories of other travellers and their opinion of my art.
We spent several winters over the years at Sandstone, Western Australia, and I was invited to paint a local scene as a retirement gift for the General Manager of the Shire. I also received a commission from a miner to document the village and surrounds in 5 large paintings.
Art also gave me the opportunity to paint people I otherwise would not have met. Andrew Fraser, M.P. for Coffs Harbour, and Larry Perkins, V8 and Formula 1 racing driver, allowed me to paint them. Interesting people! I was commissioned by the NSW Lands Department to paint the portrait of the Surveyor General, as a retirement gift. Before leaving Bathurst, I painted a portrait of Warren Somerville, the curator of the Fossil Museum, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Warren had donated the collection, valued at $15 million, to the people of NSW. Again, a very interesting man! This painting is now held by Bathurst Regional Gallery.
Bathurst Council’s art collection also includes a couple of my paintings, again giving me the opportunity to come in contact with people through art.
Since moving to Coffs, I have entered works in both the Bellingen Art Prize and the art section of the Dorrigo Show and was fortunate to have a painting become part of the Bellingen Council art collection.
Watercolour painting has made retirement a very great pleasure.
There will be an exhibition of your work at the Nexus Gallery, Bellingen, in October. What are the dates/times of this exhibition, and will there be any costs involved for people to attend?
My exhibition at the Nexus Community Gallery, Old Butter Factory, Bellingen, will be opened on Sunday October 14 at 5pm, with drinks and nibbles. It will then be open seven days a week from 10am ‘til 4.30pm until Friday November 9, 2012. Entry is free.
How many pieces will be on display in the exhibition, and will there be a theme that ties these pieces together?
There will be approximately 26 pieces on display, and the theme is INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE. It will include pieces inspired by Coffs Harbour, our travels, and the things we have seen.
Where can people find out more information/view samples of your work, or more information about the exhibition?
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 25 of the Coffs Coast Focus