In Brief

Helen Wilks studied fine art (painting) at Bath Academy of Art and at the University of Reading. She lives and works in London and also in Italy.  From 1996–2011, she was Head of Humanities at the City & Guilds of London Art School.  A resident artist at the Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut (winter 2005/6), in 2007 she exhibited ‘The Inhabited Space’, a sixteen metre panorama at the Yale Center for British Art. She has shown her work regularly over the last 35 years, and makes paintings, prints, drawings and artist books. Recipient of a British Council Artist Award in 2009 to fund her solo show ‘Punch y Judy’, at Latinarte, Madrid, she also exhibited ‘Judy and Punch’ works on paper at New Hall Art Gallery, University of Cambridge, in 2012. Most recently she has contributed to numerous curated exhibitions: in Italy (Verona, Mantova, Sicilia) and in London (Red Gallery, Discerning Eye 2013 &14) and Studio Expurgamento (2013 & 14).

 

Selected solo shows:

2012 Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge ‘Judy and Punch’
2010 La Casa di Ros, Mantova, Italy;
2009 El Centro Cultural Latinarte, Madrid, Spain;
2007 Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA “New Perspectives on Panoramas”;
2007 Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
1998 The Freud Museum, London
1995 La Métaphore Théåtre National, Lille, France
1993 The Pump House Gallery, London
1992 Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature
1990 Clarendon Gallery, London
1987 The Wells Centre, Norfolk
1986 Watermans Arts Centre, London
1986 Battersea Arts Centre
1985 Greenwich Theatre Art Gallery, London
1983 Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
1982 Bridge Street Gallery, Bath

 

Selected group shows:

2013/14 Studio Expurgamento, London, ‘Mask’, ‘Secrets and Lies’, curator Natalia Zargorska-Thomas
2013/14 Discerning Eye, London
2013 Red Gallery, London ‘Three Faiths’, curator Michael Regan
2012 Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge ‘Judy and Punch’
2011 ‘Book in Box’, Mantova curator Antonella Gandini
2010 Bannata, Siciliy
2010/14 Art Farm, Verona
2010 La Casa di Ros, Mantova, Italy;
2009 El Centro Cultural Latinarte, Madrid, Spain;
“New Perspectives on Panoramas”;
2000 Art First, London;
1999 Beaux Arts Gallery, Bath;
1997/8 Oriel Theatr Clwyd, North Wales ‘Women on Men’, (touring)
1995/9 Beatrice Royal Art Gallery, Hampshire, ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘Narratives’
1994 Kilvert Gallery, Hay-on-Wye
1994 Lamont Gallery, London
1992/3 RA, London Summer Exhibitions
1992 Blasón Gallery, London
1991/2/4 Roy Miles Gallery, London
1990/1/6 Rye Art Gallery, Sussex, ‘Painters’ Tales’, ‘Serious Arrangements’, ‘Childhood Remembered’
1990 Boundary Gallery, London
1989 Battersea Arts Centre, London ‘Mask’
1985 Ashley Gallery, Epsom ‘Behind the August Mask’
1983 National Poetry Centre, London, ‘Portraits of 20th-Century Poets‘, (prize winner: Portrait of Christopher Reid)
1981 Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames

 

Residencies:

2005/6 Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, USA (Winter)
1995 Bexley Arts Education Forum (Dulverton School);
1994 Paines Plough (Collaboration with Anna Furse);
1986 Battersea Arts Centre (Dance Days);
1986 Long Crendon (Resurrection Plays);
1985 Epsom Playhouse (Autumn season);

 

Works in public collections:
Epsom and Ewell Borough Council;
Victoria & Albert Museum, (Theatre Collection);
Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading;
Josef and Anni Albers Foundation,Connecticut, USA;
New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge

Selected broadcasts/bibliography
2014 Secrets and Lies, Exhibition catalogue published by
Studio Expurgamento, London, containing essay by Melanie Vandenbrouck and interview with the curator, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas
2012 The Lamentable Tale of Punch and Judy, Limited edition artist book,
words and drawings by the artist
2009 Punch y Judy, Exhibition catalogue published by Latinarte,
Distrito Latina, Madrid containing essay:
‘Punch y Judy’ by Lutz Becker
2008 Figments, Edizione Pulcinoelefante, Osnagu, Miilano, Italy
Limited edition artist book, words and drawings by the artist;
2006 Foldemzine III, Pressed Wafer, Boston, MA;
2003 ‘The Crack’ by Christopher Reid, in For and After, Faber & Faber;
2002 The Daily Telegraph, April 20th ‘What is Childhood?’
by Rebecca Abrams
1998 Modern Painters, Winter Issue. Review
by George Szirtes ‘Childhood Fragments,
an exhibition at the Freud Museum’, London
1998 Childhood Fragments, Exhibition catalogue
published by the Freud Museum
‘Fragments of memory’ by Eva Hoffman;
‘A painted tragi-comedy of internal narratives’ by Sanda Miller;
1996 BBC World Service, ‘Speaking of English’
Interview with Liz Maloney: using words to describe paintings
1995 The Net, BBC Radio London March 25th
Interview with Dee Pilgrim
1993 Nightwaves BBC Radio 3, April 29th ‘Childhood Fragments’
Interview and discussion presented by Michèle Roberts
1991 The Times, John Russell Taylor
‘British Month at the Roy Miles Gallery’ March 6th

Grants/Prizes/Awards:

2009 British Council Artist Award
2005 Anni and Josef Albers Foundation, USA (funding for transatlantic transport of paintings and residency)
2003 Nominated for Jerwood Artists Platform Award
1998 John S Cohen Foundation (funding for Freud Museum catalogue)
1995 London Arts Board Award
1993 Wandsworth Borough, Arts Fund Grant
1983 Contemporary Portrait Society (prizewinner)

 

Testimonies

Christopher Reid  Poet and Critic
“Helen Wilks’s paintings and drawings bring together two qualities which one might have thought to be essentially opposed :  the intimate and the theatrical.  … The studio paintings, whether ostensibly on theatrical or other themes, are the product of a slower and more considered way of working, yet their performance metaphor remains valid.  With their sparely detailed settings, the mundane and mysterious dramas … have a poise, a sense of contained momentum, that appeals directly to the onlooker’s participating imagination.  Whether they are complete strangers who happen to have caught her eye in passing, or versions of the artist herself, Helen Wilks’s protagonists connect us to a sense of the world as a dramatic continuum in which social display and private feelings are to be understood in all their mutual complexity.”

Paula Rego  Painter
“ I know and very much like Helen’s work – I think she is a very talented artist, very imaginative and it seems to me that she is progressing all the time.”

Rita Donagh  Painter
“I taught Helen at Reading and have kept in touch since.  She has always been completely committed to her painting and it seems to be becoming more and more intense.  Her work is a real narrative of women’s experience – she’s completely original.  The narrative nature of her imagery makes statements; she wants to make things visible to people and she wants them to understand.  I’ve watched children looking at her paintings and being obviously fascinated.  I know Helen has also had a longstanding passion for the theatre.”

The late Jack Smith  Painter
“In this remembered world of childhood there is much compassion.  Although about children, the paintings also reflect the drama and sadness of an adult world.  The figure is isolated and threatened, often by that which is outside the picture or on its edge.  …Simple acts become acts of aggression.  …There is sadness in these images, but there is also much joy and knowledge in the art of painting them.”

Eva Hoffman   Writer, Critic and Broadcaster
“To enter the realm of Helen Wilks’s Childhood Fragments is to experience the pleasure – and the uncanniness – of surprised recognition.   ….[They] remind us, with startling vividness, of minute situations, gestures and emotions which we have surely all experienced, but which in most of us live only a vague, half-forgotten life ….But within these humble tropes we glimpse, via some alchemy of the painting process, potent dramas of fear, aggression and love.  The alchemy surely inheres in the acuteness of Helen Wilks’s insight, in her gift for conveying with almost disturbing exactness the intensities and nuances of the inner life ….Indeed the force of [her] work resides in its subtle modulations.  Her affective range is wide, but she never exploits the sensational pitch ….she has the courage to know that significant experience is made of small moments, and the intuition to discern within them the grand and fundamental patterns of human psyche.”  Fragments of Memory,  Freud Museum catalogue, 1998

George Szirtes   Writer and Critic
“Painting here is a form of theatre that solicits, even demands, interpretation.  It positions itself at a kind of equidistance from allegory, memory and enigma ….[These] paintings clearly offer something specific to the literary imagination, much as they do the psycho-analytic mind and to the image-making painterly capacity.  The literary imagination, however, is particularly important ….There are comparisons to be drawn from Balthus, the early Lucien Freud, Carel Weight or even Paula Rego, but her chief power lies in the presentation of the ordinary as the extraordinary, and she does this primarily through a natural instinct for the theatre of composition.”

Review of Freud Museum exhibition: Modern Painters, Winter Issue 1998

August Kleinzahler   Poet and Critic
“Helen Wilks’s paintings would appear to be about childhood, the psychological condition of childhood, and, more specifically, about one particular child’s separateness.  But this is merely the rude, if intriguing, framework of her enterprise. What is playing out here pictorially, enacted in paint, is the extreme, unpredictable, often combustious interactions between sensibility and the imaginative life with what we call the “real world.”  I know of no other “easel painter” at work out there at the moment using the language of figuration whose paintings are more vivid and filled with drama.   I find them mesmerizing. “   2004

Sanda Miller   Art Historian and Critic
“ Helen Wilks’s paintings are internal narratives rather than mimetic re-presentations of reality.  Life provides the tragi-comic framework.  They are about life;  they are about ordinariness and the strangeness of ordinariness, the ‘uncanny’ which Sigmund Freud elevated to an aesthetic category……..Wilks can be seen as the heir of Balthus, as well as of Carel Weight or Lucian Freud and a host of other artists who disregard the percived Zeitgeist in order to follow their own – often solitary – path.  Paradoxically, it is precisely this refusal to conform which renders these artists and their works progressive in the true sense…”

‘A Painted Tragi-Comedy of Internal Narratives’
Freud Museum catalogue, 1998

Susan Rubin Suleiman   Writer and Academic
Helen Wilks’s paintings are visual poems, evoking dreams and memories:  a brilliant blue sea, vaporous sky, a dress floating on a clothesline; a little girl in a white slip, her arms outstretched, looking unhappy as adult hands tug at her hem; a city glimpsed through a broken wall, a two-headed donkey, an empty room –  these are among the images in the artist’s latest work, a room-sized installation that constitutes a world.  Stepping into Helen Wilks’s world is a privilege and a pleasure, unforgettable.