Artistic License With Helena Gorey



Inspired by her home in Kilkenny, Helena Gorey’s abstract colour field paintings are a representation of an ongoing dialogue between the artist and the natural world. Her latest exhibition “Proscenium” is at the RHA Ashford Gallery until March 11.

What was the starting point for your new exhibition “Proscenium”? 

My approach to painting is intuitive and the form of a proscenium arch began to emerge in my work in 2016. There is a large shed in the farmyard, where my studio is located, with enormous sliding doors, which frame the landscape. I am always struck by its similarity to a theatrical space and I was familiar with the term from my days working as artist in residence with Polish/Irish Theatre Unlimited in the 1980s and 1990s. I made a proposal to the Ashford Gallery that I would make a site specific painting installation for the gallery, which would be directly influenced by my sense of the landscape around me. Although the “arch” has largely disappeared from the paintings, proscenium as a metaphorical vertical plane of space remains and I felt it was still an appropriate title for the exhibition. 

Is there any particular order to the paintings in “Proscenium”?

I planned the scale and number of works for the Ashford Gallery and tried to make the paintings relate to each other and the space, beginning with the three larger paintings on the back wall. My intention was to draw the eye right around the gallery in a circular motion. My studio is a much smaller space so I was pleased to be able to achieve this and surprised that the way in which the paintings are installed may give a sense of seasonal changes in the landscape.

Where and how do you work?

My studio is located in a converted stone out building on my family’s farm (in Kilkenny). I can see mount Leinster from the studio and Sliabh na mBan on morning walks with the dog, and I will sometimes return to the studio with ideas about colour. Colour is always my primary focus. My desire is to make a painting that is simple and direct in a way that I sense, for example, in drawings by Matisse. This is difficult to achieve and more often than not I will continue to layer paint from light to dark and dark to light until I arrive at a place where the painting has returned to simplicity but with a sense of depth. It is somehow important that the evidence of this process is revealed in imperfections on the painting surface and its history revealed at the painting edges. 

Have you had any mentors or muses during your career in art?

There are many artists whose work I admire and with whom I share a common interest in colour and abstraction, but I would say that the tutors and my time studying Fine Art at Limerick School of Art and Design has had the greatest influence on my development as an artist. It was the right time and place for the world of art to open up to a teenager from rural Kilkenny. 

You work primarily in oil paint. What are you working on at the moment?

For “Proscenium” I have been working in oil on linen on a larger scale than I have for a while and I have some ideas about smaller works I would like to make using gouache and watercolour on paper. I was also planning to take a short break and get back to work on my neglected garden but I have some exhibition opportunities at the Theca Gallery, Milan and The Glebe Gallery, Donegal this summer so it’s back to the studio for me.

Need to Know: “Proscenium” is currently at the RHA Ashford Gallery. Helena Gorey will participate in the Ashford in Conversation Series with Catherine Marshall on March 7 at 5.30pm.;

Penny McCormick

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