Helen Thomas Q & A
Hi Helen! Firstly could you briefly introduce yourself and your practice?
Hi, I’m a visual artist - working mainly with painting and drawing. I’m interested in our relationships with plants in different places and settings.
The pandemic has challenged and changed the way in which many people work. How has it affected your workings and what have you done to adapt your practice over the past 18 months?
I’m quite used to working with changing circumstances; my ‘adapt and keep working’ approach became more important through the pandemic. There were times when I couldn’t access my studio or even paint or draw outside, so I found ways to make work on a corner of the table at home.
Your exhibition Dandelions and Double Yellows asks the audience to reconsider plants we often dismiss as weeds. What first drew you to this concept?
I’ve been noticing urban wildflowers and garden escapes for years. When I first moved into my studio at The Art House I missed the more natural surroundings that had been the focus of my work.
As I was picking litter one day I realised that plants that are described as weeds tend to be associated with litter because they are often found together. As I picked crisp packets and cans from between leaves and flowers, I started to think about how these - often contested - plants in our neighbourhoods and towns are important for pollinators and other wildlife and how they can bring softness to the built environment. They’re also fascinating to look at and always changing.
Do you think the pandemic has had a positive influence on how society now interacts with local nature and the outdoors?
I think many of us became more mindful of our natural surroundings and the value of connecting with outdoor spaces and noticing nature.
Our streets and parks are still regularly littered, which indicates a lack of connection with our environment. However, it does feel like there has been a positive shift and I hope that will continue.
What do you hope the people of Wakefield take away from experiencing your paintings?
I’ve had some interesting conversations with people when I’ve been out painting, and with visitors to the exhibition. Some people said that they now have a new perspective on ‘weeds’, others have been inspired to take a photo or paint and one visitor said it was ‘balm for the soul’. These wonderful responses, are all credit to the viewer.
Do you have a favourite memory or piece of art work from previous Artwalk events?
Three come to mind instantly: Yelena Popova’s ‘Townlets’, Tony Wade’s ‘Boundary no Boundary’ and a favourite memory from way back is Richard Wheater’s ‘Disappearing Paths’.
You’ve been an artist for (many) years now, do you have any advice for those just starting out in the industry?
I’m smiling as I answer because your question prompted me to play Baz Luhrmanns ‘Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’. Anyhow, here are a few ‘notes to self’: Give it a go. Put the work in. Learn and adapt. Make the most of opportunities to work with others.
And finally, you’re having a garden party with artists and musicians past and present. Who are you inviting and what’s on your playlist?
Can we have the run of YSP for the garden party? The first names that come to mind today are Joan Mitchell, Bridget Riley, Eileen Hogan, and Lubaina Himid.
The playlist will be quite a mix - right now I’m listening to Laurie Anderson. I’d love Mi Mye to play and for Bodys (Emily and Jamie) to programme the live music - I’ve loved every Body’s gig that I’ve been to (which is most of them).
Thanks for chatting with us Helen, you’re exhibition Dandelions and Double Yellows and at Wakefield Cathedral is looking brilliant!
Thank you, it’s wonderful to be part of Artwalk. I’m delighted to have been awarded an Artwalk commission and I’m looking forward to launching the publication ‘Dandelions and Double Yellows and…’
The exhibition continues to 15th August, and entry to the exhibition is free.
Helen Thomas 'Dandelions & Double Yellows’ Find out more here>