Like many Capetonian artists, Helen’s proximity to magnificent landscapes and boundless ocean vistas has an immense influence on her work. Helen interprets the spontaneously shifting patterns, rhythms and textures of nature into a vast vocabulary of surface treatments combined to gorgeous effect in her work. The colors and textures of each piece form an abstract landscape brought to life with the shadow and light of three dimensional form.
But Helen’s creative process doesn’t stop when the work goes home with collectors. Her well-known, tall, column-like tea lights, beautifully marked and subtly glazed, encourage clients to assemble their own groupings, making the client part of the creative process. Because Helen’s gorgeous, flexible visual vocabulary speaks quietly, the individuality of each collector and each home can add shades and nuances. Reacting to the elemental forms and tender surface treatments becomes part of your daily experience of your own space. Viola: your interior and your inner landscape have been transformed.
Each of Helen’s pieces is masterfully crafted to interpret her earthly inspirations in a sophisticated way. Sgraffito and etched marks blend skillfully with bronze patinas in one of Helen’s signature combinations. Slip finishes maintain their liquidity and looseness. Horizon lines remain soft. Clouds of mist roll over a suggestion of grasslands. Her dreamy approach captures a distinctly modern African feel–one that builds on natural beginnings with a sense of freedom and individuality. “Helen’s sense of color–which blends sunbleached neutrals with pops of saturated tones–struck us as distinctly African,” comments Shane Brogan, vice president of merchandising at US retailer West Elm–which has entered into a design relationship with Helen.
Recently Helen has challenged her creative process by developing monumental and sculptural vessels. While still containing her signature elements, these speak to a bolder approach. The success of the large vessels lies in their sculptural presence and in the intricate relationship that is developed between a grouping of several of them. Like her tea lights, a conversation between pieces, directed by the person who brings them home, creates an original dynamic. Helen encourages people to group all of her work together as a high impact statement. Or they can let individual works act as sentinels, nobly alone and independent.
This expansion of the creative process has also permitted exploration into other media, and Helen has begun experimentation with cloth, paper and metal. Her repertoire now includes printmaking, painting, jewelry and textiles–all ready to be integrated contemporary settings the world over. While definitely African, her creative language has a global appeal. She continues to draw inspiration from the extraordinary natural environment of South Africa, and pushes herself creatively to develop new and exciting work.
For more about Helen, see www.helenvaughan.co.za.
Fraser Conlon is director of Amaridian, a New York City gallery of contemporary African art and design, ww.amaridianusa.com.