“I’m always looking for the best way to visually establish the many-faced human relationship to nature; its beauty as well as its violence”
September 3rd, 2016 by M. Elise Hillestad
Figurative painter Hélène Delmaire resides and creates in the populous northern city of Lille, in the region of France which was once Flanders; the fertile homelands of Flemish painting during the Renaissance, and presently home to roughly 1,016,000 urban residents. In her pictures, there is a visceral yearning for the raw, green, unbridled comfort that nature provides to a metropolis-weary pilgrim. In these days of sensory-overloading media and information inundation, Delmaire’s rose-hued depictions of humans communing with plant life touch a deep and primal place in us that feels the ache of disconnect from nature.
Delmaire’s work is fragile and frequently humanist, with its figures’ eyes downward-cast, or perhaps inward-cast, laden with vulnerability. There is also isolation, as in her recent works where the subjects’ eyes have been obscured, removing any chance of intimacy that might have been present. There is momentum: in her series, Les Mangeurs de Lotus (The Lotus Eaters) women regurgitate flowers. And in the dark vagueness of her painting, Route de Nuit, Hiver there is a feeling of longing to connect with something bigger, more eternal than one’s self.
M: There is a gentle and loving treatment of nature in your paintings- almost like a delicate dance between the wild and the human. What does this symbiotic relationship with the natural world mean to you as a creator, and to your work?
Delmaire: This relationship informs all of my work. When I first started, I wanted to paint landscapes. I did for a while, mostly nightscapes, but quickly found myself missing a human element. I was very inspired by Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s women in nature, or by Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes where foreground figures guide the viewer’s eyes and mind through their contemplative awe.
I’m always looking for the best way to visually establish the many-faced human relationship to nature, in its beauty as well as violence. It can take many forms. I’m interested in nature’s place in the human psyche, especially today when it seems we are so severed from it. How do we reconcile our modern, fast-paced lives with our original link to the greater whole? I think it creates a certain feeling of alienation in people, though many don’t even consciously realise it.
M: Are there certain landscapes that are precious to you or places in nature where you go to find solace or inspiration?
Delmaire: Being a city girl I’ve always felt a deep longing for the wild. Any place that is green and devoid of people is a place that recharges my batteries. But I live in a fairly big city in the most populated area of Europe so it’s not ideal. What little countryside there is is very much man-shaped around here — which takes me back to this feeling of severed ties and being out of place. The Still Life With Flowers series comes from this feeling.
M: In recent work you’ve used strokes of thick paint to obscure faces and create abstractions. Still, your images are consistently figurative and suggest a narrative. Why do you paint humans?
Delmaire: I’m interested in mindscapes and emotions, and the human element makes it easier to communicate this. The idea is always more important than the person or face being represented however. I’m not really painting individuals so much as symbols of humanness. Man is a part of the story I’m trying to tell, but it’s only one element — the prism through which the rest is reflected. Because I am human and it’s the only approach I know, my own brain is my only way to make sense of the world.
I don’t want to glorify individuals though. The erased eyes are a way to go beyond the ego, to transform individuality into universality, but also to block the “window to the soul” in order to preserve the subject’s inner world which is so intimate, and impossible to perfectly and fully communicate to someone else. In its depths, this inner world is closer to nature, almost less human, if this makes any sense.
…”I met someone who lived from their paintings, and decided to give it a go. If someone else could do it with hard work and motivation I probably could too.”…
M: What was the young girl Hélène like, and what lead her to start painting? Talk a little about how you learned paint, and the development of your style!
Delmaire: She was extremely shy and insecure, as the artist cliché goes! And very geeky. At 12 I wanted to do character design for RPGs or fantasy films and animation but I tried studying graphic design and such and it turned out not to be my thing. But I kept on drawing. At 18 I randomly met someone who lived from their paintings and decided to give it a go. If someone else could do it with hard work and motivation I probably could too. They told me of the Florence atelier schools and I studied in one of them for almost three years. It gave me a very solid technical foundation to then build upon while experimenting with themes and styles after coming back to France. It took two full years before I finally painted something I liked, and even after that developed quite slowly. It’s still evolving of course, it always is. Those few years were quite hard as I had virtually no money.
It’s difficult psychologically to work when you don’t know if anything is going to sell or even be seen by anyone. But the drive was always there. And social media then helped a lot with getting it all out there. My generation is very lucky to have this tool at our disposal.
M: Which paintings do you most like to look at? Are there any painters, dead or alive, who have been formative to your style?
Delmaire: Other than the ones I mentioned, I love Whistler’s nocturnes, the American tonalists, the pre-raphaelites, the symbolists. And I look up to very many contemporary painters. Winston Chmielinski, Benjamin Björklund, Timothy Wilson, Nicola Samori, there are so many of them! Which is really amazing. I really like Erin Loree’s abstract paintings. I’m also inspired by contemporary photography. I’m a massive fan of Masao Yamamoto who is probably my favourite visual artist. There are also younger people like Alison Scarpulla, Brigette Bloom or Hanna Putz.
M: are you in the midst of any new works or have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell about? Themes or motifs you have been working with?
Delmaire: I’ve been working on bigger sized paintings so that’s exciting. I’m finding the broad gestures one can have on large formats very liberating. I’m also trying to explore more ways to incorporate abstraction in different ways, not only in my small works like the eyeless girls but also in bigger pieces. There are so many ways to make marks and some are relatively unused. For example I’ve been researching paper marbling and how to adapt the technique to painting. Lots of things cooking at the moment, and some of them will meet further down the line, we’ll see what happens!
M: And finally, just for the fun of it…. with what character or deity from mythology do you most identify?
Delmaire: I would say Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky. Well, I wish! But she encompasses the mystery of the universe as well as the idea of death, resurrection and protection. And I love the representations of her whole body arching over the earth, covered in stars – it is said to have been inspired by the appearance of the Milky Way itself. I’m a sucker for astronomy.
for more visit http://www.helenedelmaire.com