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:

1982    Bridge Street Gallery, Bath

1983    Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Fringe

1985    Greenwich Theatre Art Gallery, London

1986    Battersea Arts Centre

1986    Watermans Arts Centre, London

1987    Wells Centre, Norfolk

1990    Clarendon Gallery, London

1992    Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature

1993    Pump House Gallery, London

1995    La  Métaphore Théåtre National, Lille, France

1998    Freud Museum, London

2007    Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, USA

2007    Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, USA

‘New Perspectives on Panoramas’

2009    El Centro Cultural Latinarte, Madrid, Spain

2010    La Casa di Ros, San Benedetto Po, Mantova, Italy

2012    Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge

2016    Studio Ex Purgamento, London ‘Festoni: Natura Morta’

 

Selected group shows:

1981    Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames

1983    National Poetry Centre, London ‘Portraits of 20th-Century Poets‘

1985    Ashley Gallery, Epsom  ‘Behind the August Mask’

1989    Battersea Arts Centre, London ‘Mask’

1990    Boundary Gallery, London

1990/1/6 Rye Art Gallery, Sussex ‘Painters’ Tales’ ‘Serious Arrangements’

‘Childhood Remembered’

1991/2/4 Roy Miles Gallery, London

1992    Blasón Gallery, London

1992/3 RA, London Summer Exhibitions

1994    Lamont Gallery, London

1994    Kilvert Gallery, Hay-on-Wye

1995/9 Beatrice Royal Art Gallery, Hampshire, ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘Narratives’

1997/8 Oriel Theatr Clwyd, North Wales  ‘Women on Men’, (touring)

1999    Beaux Arts Gallery, Bath

2000    Art First, London

2010/14 Art Farm, Verona

2010    Bannata, Siciliy

2011    ‘Book in Box’, Archivio di Stato, Mantova

2013    Red Gallery, London ‘Three Faiths’

2013/14 Discerning Eye, London

2013/14/15        Studio Ex Purgamento, London

‘Mask’ ‘Secrets and Lies’ ‘Please Do Touch’

2018   Inedite/E20 Pille, MN, Italy

2018   Centro Provincial de Artes Plásticas y Diseño, Havana, ‘Bookworks’

Residencies:

1985    Epsom Playhouse (Autumn season);

1986    Long Crendon (Resurrection Plays);

1986    Battersea Arts Centre (Dance Days);

1994    Paines Plough (Collaboration with Anna Furse);

1995    Bexley Arts Education Forum (Dulverton School);

2005/6 Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, USA (Winter)

 

Works in public collections:

Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading;

Epsom and Ewell Borough Council;

Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, USA;

New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge

Victoria & Albert Museum, (Theatre Collection);

 

Selected broadcasts/bibliography

1991 The Times, John Russell Taylor

‘British Month at the Roy Miles Gallery’ March 6th

 

1993 Nightwaves BBC Radio 3, April 29th ‘Childhood Fragments’

Interview and discussion presented by Michèle Roberts

 

1995 The Net, BBC Radio London March 25th

Interview with Dee Pilgrim

 

1996 BBC World Service, ‘Speaking of English’

Interview with Liz Maloney: ‘Using words to describe paintings’

 

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;

 

1998 Modern Painters, Winter Issue.  Review by George Szirtes

‘Childhood Fragments, an exhibition at the Freud Museum’, London

 

2002 The Daily Telegraph, April 20th ‘What is Childhood?’

by Rebecca Abrams

 

2003 For and After ‘The Crack’ by Christopher Reid, Faber & Faber;

 

2006 Foldemzine III, Pressed Wafer, Boston, MA;

 

2008 Figments, Edizione Pulcinoelefante, Osnagu, Miilano, Italy

Limited edition artist book, words and drawings by the artist;

 

2009 Punch y Judy, Exhibition catalogue published by Latinarte,

Distrito Latina, Madrid. Catalogue essay:

‘Punch y Judy’ by Lutz Becker

 

2012 The Lamentable Tale of Punch and Judy, Limited edition artist book,

words and drawings by the artist

 

2015 Gardenia, Milano ‘Rose che abitano il tempo’ by Costanza Lunardi,      October ‘Rose’ supplement

 

2015 New Hall Art Collection Catalogue, 4th Edition, Murray Edwards College
2016 ‘Helen Wilks in Collina: Nascondersi per vedersi’ by Renzo Margonari, Cronaca di Mantova, 15 April

 

2016 Festoni: natura morta, Exhibition catalogue published by

Studio Ex Purgamento, London

containing essay by Judith Ravenscroft, ‘Memento Mori’

by Carole Satyamurti and interview with the artist by

Natalia Zagorska-Thomas

 

Grants/Prizes/Awards:

1983 Contemporary Portrait Society (prizewinner)

1993 Wandsworth Borough Council, Arts Fund Grant

1995 London Arts Board Award

1998 John S Cohen Foundation (funding for catalogue)

2003 Nominated for Jerwood Artists Platform Award

2005 Anni and Josef Albers Foundation, USA (Invited artist + funding)

2009 British Council Artist Award

 

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.