Flashe on canvas | 2021
“The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry, baby, don't cry”
- Paul Simon (The Boy in The Bubble, 1986)
What does one paint in a time like this?
In light of the difficult circumstances this past year, I felt drawn to making work about rebirth, rejuvenation of the earth, and renewal of the environment relating to the principles of nurturing and motherhood. This has been a very dark period in human existence, and most people have had incredible challenges.
I have had to revise my own practice to adapt to a year in quarantine with a young child, while also working in medicine. Many nights I have found myself utterly exhausted from the challenges of the day. How do I justify devoting hours to making art when I also have the skills to save patients’ lives during a pandemic? Shouldn’t I be spending all my energy and time in the hospital helping out my team? Realistically, much of my time this year has been spent in the hospital under multiple layers of PPE doing what needs to be done, but in the midst of what has felt like a war, creating art has been the means of keeping my soul intact during what feels like an insurmountable onslaught of illness and death.
My solution has been working through the exhaustion. I feel that the act of creating art is especially important in times like this, because it is a testament to human resilience in the face of darkness. I have approached my work this year from the perspective of needing to create an alternative to our current situation, an internal world where nature and humanity exist in a copacetic feedback loop, nourishing one another.
I often find myself sitting down to work late in the evening, after the house was silent and I could be alone with my thoughts and feeling of the day. The solitude of making art has always been a place where I could reflect on the world around me, digest it, interpret it and transform those ideas into an object imbued with what I believe is needed in the world at that time. Visual art is an act of conjuring the metaphysical and intellectual processes and concretely communicating that vision with others.
I began adapting my practice to working late nights, creating smaller works where I could explore more ideas in rapid succession without the need for drying time between layers that oil paint requires. As I began adapting my practice to this new reality we all found ourselves living in, I found that I could take larger creative risks when working on a smaller scale. Sometimes it’s easy to say bigger things in smaller pieces.
Over the past 25 years, my painting practice has delved deeply into both extremes of figuration and abstraction. I have the technical skills to paint a decent copy of Ingres “La Odalisque” or make heroic scale abstractions, but I find no particular category of painting to be so seductive that I could commit to follow the theoretical and aesthetic guidelines of any particular movement. I personally find myself under satisfied with the production of more mediated forms of art such as time-based media, relational aesthetics or making work with more overt political content (although all work is political). My work is best when it’s personal and of a singular voice, and my active work in medicine more than fulfills my desire to make a concrete difference in the world. I prefer artist who work with a singular voice, and I am most comfortable working within that idiom myself.
I’m interested in pulling from everything to create new images that are distinctly my own. Although aspects of them may be inspired by other artists, the excitement is in the creation of something new. Nothing is restricted in my work. It may be figurative or abstract, humorous or dark, libidinous or virtuous but it has to be my own and it has to be interesting. Not beautiful, or subversive... Just interesting. Because life is interesting. Art is not life, it should be better than that.
Helen Rebekah Garber
February 23, 2021
8 x 10 inches
Signed by the artist.
“Painting is a sixth sense for me. I use painting as a way to digest life experiences.”