– by David Charlesworth
Outback flowers found fertile ground in artist Helen Ansell’s exhibition Beyond the Fence Line at the Form Gallery, which finished on August 16. Paintings of the flora and fauna of regional WA in the patterned style of Aboriginal Art show inspirations from a variety of widely differing Aboriginal styles which Helen has brought together.
Helen grew up within the Ululla Aboriginal community near Wiluna, and though not of Aboriginal descent herself, found through it the main influence on her artistic style. Also a major influence were the seed hunting expeditions she went on with her father where she found her love of native flora.
While I was expecting the gallery to be pleasant paintings of flowers, I found the exhibition to be flowers rendered in fascinating patterns bright strokes of colour. Flowers are presented not in so much a realistic way but as iconic views of them. Immediately you saw the outback through Helen’s eyes as a lush landscape rather than a desert.
Helen recently gave a number of talks at Form about the exhibition and her work, during which I had the opportunity to speak with her.
So Helen, how long has this exhibition taken to come to fruition?
“I’ve been working on this show in concept for four years but the actual paintings over the last two years.”
“I’ve got two kids at home, a brand new baby and a two year old, so I don’t have the time. Back in days when I was painting in Edinburgh I could stay up until four in the morning and paint and sleep in.”
“Whereas now I only every get two hours here or two hours there, I never have a block of even four hours.”
“So a lot of people say do you wait until you’re inspired to paint and I don’t have that liberty. So I’ve got a place set up and the paints are all there and it’s like right let’s do it.”
“Now I’ve got a newborn I’m not going to be able to paint for a while but I’ve got ideas and I’m writing the ideas down. Sometimes it’s good to have a break because then you get itching to do it.”
You’ve also worked extensively with Aboriginal communities through teaching art, how has that influenced your work?
“I’ve been teaching most recently out of the prison in Geraldton, Greenough Regional Prison, and I teach with the men and the women it’s 100 per cent indigenous in my class, so they’re people from all over the state, all different cultures.”
“It’s an amazing environment when I first went in because of the different communities.”
“You would never get a room full of eight different people from eight different communities from all around Western Australia in the same place painting, it’s pretty amazing.”
“Some of these guys, they range from aboriginal elders to young guys from the city who don’t know much about their culture but are amazing artists.”
“Quite often I’ll be blown away and think wow I wish I could do that, I’m very inspired by a lot of the work that they do.”
“So I’ve worked with them for 5 or 6 years and run the Aboriginal art centre at Wiluna called Tjukurba Gallery and with Spinifex Hill artists up in Port Hedland.”
This exhibition is also the launch or your design company, Mulla Mulla Designs, with Geraldton based artist Peta Riley. What plans do you have in store for it?
“We haven’t 100 per cent decided what we want to do yet. Peta and I are both mum’s so our time is very limited.”
“The original idea was that we wanted to make products that we could sell at wholesale prices, we didn’t want to have our own shopfront.”
“We don’t have the time to be in a shop running a shop and we don’t have the money to have someone running the shop for us.”
“We’ve had so many offers, we’re just taking things one step at a time, we’re very new and we’ve got a limited budget.”
“We’ve got a million ideas but we’ll focus on just a few things at once and try get some money in the bank and see where it goes.”