By Clementine Hall
Helen Brayshaw, a local artist from Ilkley, has taken lockdown in her stride by using it as an inspiration for her paintings.
After returning to University in 2016 to study an MA in fine art, Helen pushed her career in marketing and fashion to one side and took the leap into becoming a practising artist, something that she always wanted to be.
Since then, Helen’s work has been exhibited around the country and admired by many, including featuring at the Ferens Gallery Hull in 2017, where one of her pieces was sold to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
As I spoke to Helen, we were surrounded by her wonderful paintings hung up on her living room walls, a space which she has transformed into a makeshift home gallery. Helen explained to me the ways lockdown has not only inspired her paintings but has also aided many new artists, like herself, in building a platform for their work:
“Last March I went into my studio but I didn’t have much paint, I thought what can I do to keep enough paint going so that I can paint long term, because we are going to be locked down. So I just watered it down and then I thought, well, what can I do with watered down paint? I can just pour it and see what happens.”
Helen experiments with lots of different media in her work, including oil on canvas to create intricate still life images and most recently, lockdown has inspired her to create poured paintings of landscapes which she views on her daily walks.
“For almost a whole year I’ve looked at the seasons and I’ve looked really carefully at the skies, at the colours of the clouds, I’ve looked at what colour plants are and I’ve had that opportunity because I haven’t been able to do anything else. I took all these colours from my walks, mixed them in liquid form and poured them onto linen canvas.
“So that’s what I’ve been doing and because of lockdown, I’ve managed to get hold of supplies online and it’s become my current practice. I’ve been posting them online and they’ve mainly been selling just from online postings.”
Helen praised an online organisation called ‘The Artist Support Pledge’, created by Matthew Burrows, which is aimed at supporting emerging artists through the pandemic.
The idea is simple, artists who commit to the pledge post images of their work that’s for sale, for no more than £200, and each time their sales reach £1000 they promise to buy another artist’s work for £200.
“It gets artists talking about artists. Because there aren’t any galleries open, there aren’t any exhibitions happening, it’s really helped to boost a lot of artists and put them on a trajectory where people have suddenly started to see their work. There are some superstar artists now due to The Artist Support Pledge.”
With March being Women’s History Month, Helen and I discussed the obstacles she has had to overcome as a female artist and the steps that need to be taken in order to move closer to a place where art by women is valued the same as that by men:
“I read an article the other day that said the amount of money that has been traded for women’s art amounts to less than the price for one Picasso. Women are very creative and historically they have been very active in the home and now they’ve been able to break beyond those domestic environments. So there is a lot of fibre art, painting, drawing, which has never really been valued before.
“There’s always been a language surrounding women’s art which is designed to denigrate it, words like ‘delicate’ and ‘gentle’. So that is very difficult to break away from, but once you know it’s there and you’re aware of it, you can change that.”
As it stands, work by female artists is valued less than work by male artists. Action to change these statistics can be seen in the new female director of the Tate Modern, Frances Morris, as well as Maria Balshaw acting as the director of all Tate Museums and galleries. Fifty percent of their exhibitions now consist of art by women.
“I think that very gentle activism helps. It’s knowing that it’s not going to change overnight, but I’d say we are definitely on the right track.
“Female artists need more coverage and so do world artists; artists from different cultures and different heritage, because their work is no less valid than anyone else’s.”
With lockdown drawing to a close, Helen plans to move forward with her art whilst recognising the ways in which lockdown inspired her artistically and helped her business progress:
“I feel like I really know my market now through lockdown as I’ve had the chance to really have a look at who’s buying my work, who it’s for, why they’re buying it. I’ve organised an exhibition for July so I just want to create more paintings, hire exhibition space and do more work, show more work and hopefully sell more work!”
You can find Helen and her artwork at @helen.brayshaw.art on Instagram.