“I’ve always had a close affinity with the outback; the desert. When I find myself surrounded by red dust and miles of flat horizon I feel a sense of home. Wildflowers are one of the hidden treasures found there; they transform the landscape into fields of colour beyond where most people can see them, beyond the fence line”. - Helen Ansell
Helen Ansell has a deep sense of connection with the West Australian landscape and refers to the area where she lives outside of Geraldton as her backyard.
Whilst she has an affinity with the Mid-West, Helen has also travelled extensively throughout the state which is the inspiration for her paintings and textiles, illustrating her interest in the broader Western Australian environment, particularly its fauna and flora.
Helen is a self taught artist and her work has emerged outside the academy.
She continues to live and work on the margins, isolated from the nexus of artistic production in the city. Whilst residing in regional Western Australia has presented Helen with obstacles to pursuing an arts career, working with the distinct social and cultural context of the regions has allowed her space for creative experimentation.
Helen’s vibrant decorative paintings have an unmistakable sense of composition and colour, with meticulous brushwork and a celebratory spirit which enlivens the canvas. Helen’s choice of subject matter is an expression of the memories she imbues of living close to the land. Helen’s interest in wildflowers has been catalysed by the time she spent as a child on her father’s station collecting native seeds and her experiences growing up in Ulullua, a remote Aboriginal community outside of Wiluna where she learnt the Martu language and often visited country with older women.
Assisted by FORM and the Geraldton based creative practitioner, Peta Riley, Helen has translated her paintings into textiles, a natural evolution of her work on canvas which illustrates her preference for pattern and surface embellishment. Helen is striving for a new interpretation of nature with design driven work which depicts wildflowers, birds and plants.
‘I’m interested in how a small ordinary flower is blown up to be larger than life, each colour is dramatised, each shape simplified.’ In her finely composed paintings Helen paints elegant, long stemmed kangaroo paws, sunbursts of protea, and banksias blossoming into cone-like forms in bold, graphic forms.
After Helen spent three years in Edinburgh, Scotland, she returned home with a renewed way of seeing her environment, and Western Australia’s place in the world.
Helen’s desire to infuse her paintings with a distinctively Western Australian visual language led her to explore the ideas about developing a national art as expressed by Margaret Preston, an artist whom by the 1920s had become one of Australia’s leading modernist artists. Preston argued that ‘Australian artists must feel inherently the difference between their land and that of others … the tremendous difference in our flowers … so our treatment of our flora must be different. If it isn’t, then it is merely copy and repetition’.
In developing a national identity for Australian art, Preston advocated that Aboriginal motifs and symbols should be included to produce art that is distinctively Australian.
‘In wishing to rid myself of the mannerisms of a country other than my own I have gone to the art of a people who had never seen or known anything different from themselves …
These are the Australian Aboriginals and it is only from the art of such people in any land that a national art can spring.
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