Article from Carmathenshire Life. Winter 2009. Written by Jenna Fulford.
From as early as the age of seven Helen Elliott longed to be an enthusiastic artist. After being told by an artistic academic that she didn’t have the potential to be an artist, Helen gave up her dream and lacked the confidence to pick up a paint brush again. it wasn’t until she was thirty that Helen took the advice of a wise gentleman and ventured into her artistic mind once again. I took a trip up to Helen’s home studio in Newcastle Emlyn and listened to her creative journey into the wonderful world of naive art.
Helen isn’t your typical artist. Her lack of education in this field has let her explore her imagination in such depth and experimentation that she has developed a way of painting that is unique and memorable. ‘When I went to school’, explained Helen, ‘We could either go in to the science or the art stream. I desperately wanted to do technical drawing but only the boys were allowed to back then’. My parents told me to do the sciences, so I took art as a night class. I was asked to leave because they said I couldn’t draw properly, and that was the end of that’. It wasn’t until twenty years ago when Pembrokeshire artist Stan Rosenthal told Helen that anyone could paint if his or her heart is in it. ‘Since then I haven’t stopped’, laughed Helen.
Currently living in the quaint market town of Newcastle Emlyn, Helen has become a successful and famous artist. her work is exhibited alongside the godfathers of art in such profound places as France, New York and London.
Helen refers to her work as ‘Naive art’. ‘The term means un-tutored and comes from the 1930’s, it depicts scenes from life about day to day events, it doesn’t take any big grand theory to look at, it makes you smile and it’s happy governed by the strong colours people use. It wasn’t until I had been painting a while that I started to look for similar styles and when I found pictures like mine I was excited to know that other people have been painting like me for years. The international festival of naive art was in France last year and I was the only person selected from the whole of Britain to feature in it’.
Helen has painted many towns around Carmarthenshire with a story portrayed in every painting. ‘There’s a lot going on in my paintings’, said Helen, they all tell little stories of what’s going on, children like them too. I’ve just finished a project at Barry Island School, painting a muriel in their playground. It’s of Barry Island, Gavin and Stacey are in there too and the children helped me’.
After admiring the wonderful colours of Helen’s paintings upon her studio walls, I asked what it is that inspires her to paint in such a way. ‘I love people watching. I try to portray the light-hearted side of life. I like to mess about with the size of things and almost subconsciously I think, put the things that are more important to me at the time bigger. Not having formal education left the sort of child like way of painting. Having not been taught, nobody tells me that I can’t use the purple and the blue together or that the sea can’t be pink. It doesn’t even occur to me, I hadn’t had the rules to break so I have the freedom in some sense to do what I want…… I also love getting covered in paint,’ she laughed.
After a fascinating conversation, I asked Helen what the future holds for her art. Everyday I wake up and there’s always something new I want to paint. Helen has been very lucky in her field of work, so I ask her what advice she would give to promising artists.
‘Presentation is everything,’ said Helen, ‘Make sure your work is mounted professionally with good quality frames and canvas. Try to take a different angle on your work rather than the obvious and mainstream themes, and most importantly…. always trust your instincts!’