It wasn’t until Helen van Stolk’s corporate high flying career in Retail Property began to interfere with the balance in her life that she started to truly understand the power of art and the freedom creativity brings.
In 2008, Helen transitioned into a full-time artist. Her career has launched into a whole new trajectory as she explores the magic of creating without boundaries – the art of playing, using colour and working intuitively from within.
"To suggest and express the energy, mood and feeling an object, space or person gifts me… that is the dream.
It is not the external, the case it comes in, not the façade and the tangible, but the spirit I wish to portray. I follow the path a feeling or story takes me down and let the work unfold, exploring detail with awe, but letting it diminish into moments of meditation. Colour, light, shapes, my surroundings and thoughts play themselves out onto the canvas. Not knowing the outcome makes each work a journey of discovery.
Connection has become a very important factor within my work – connection to self, others and the world around us. To connect fully – to see, value and feel my inspiration as I work and then have that energy reflected in my work is what I reach for.
I use a variety of materials – ink, pencils, acrylic, oil and collage, to get in touch with my subject matter, allowing the process of working and playing to intuitively guide me. The act of mark making, putting down, taking away, placing, shifting and being still takes me to a place where I want to be.
Light and positivity has always been important in my work and my life, which is why there are visible traces of embracing these elements in the work I do."
We were lucky to visit Helen in her studio and created this short film with her about her process of creating and connecting. Read more in the extended interview below.
Tell us about your process and how you create your paintings?
When I work, I tend to follow what moves me. It takes me down pathways that I would never expect to be taken down. Sometimes I go out to find my subject matter, but often it finds me and if I'm open to that, it takes me on magical journeys.
So - as an example - I might go out and look for something that's botanically inspired, and come back with patterns from birds. Or I might come across an artist that just suddenly triggered something in me, that then enters my studio for a little while, and just inspires me and the creation of new work. I use a combination of all of those things, which creates an energy and a vibrancy. I love to be in that space because it excites me and it's constantly changing. There is always an element of surprise.
You speak about ‘Connection’ - could you tell us more about what this means for you?
For me, what's important is that I'm able to really feel my work. I need connection with myself when I'm working, connection to my subject matter, and then to be able to connect to people who see my work. So it's not a case of showing exactly what the object is, it’s a case of trying to express that feeling onto the canvas. The feeling I get when I'm working with my subject matter.
It's almost like the energy continues on - the energy of the space in the studio continues as it goes off into the gallery or into somebody else's home. It's like, why do we cry in front of a particular painting? I feel there is some energy that the artist has put into that work that has then later on emerged into wherever it's being displayed and exhibited. And that for me is exciting. I suppose it's the same with music, when somebody cries because a piece of music is moving. I just feel that as I'm working, if I'm putting energy and emotion into my work, that hopefully it resonates afterwards, later on in a gallery or in somebody's home.
We noticed you used words for inspiration too, could you tell us more about that?
Words are very important for me. I sometimes am inspired by poetry, or a meditation, or a particular word that energises me in a certain way. So when I pull things together and I'm working with a theme, I find I like to connect to particular words that add strength to my work. Often those words will end up in my painting - I'll take my pencil or a paintbrush and just put that word on the canvas. It will probably get overlaid at a later stage, but every now and then they do peep through. Sometimes they even become the title of the work.
What has your journey looked like and how did you become a full-time artist?
I used to work in property and did all the retail leasing at the V&A Waterfront. I loved it and it had its creative moments, but I used to paint as a hobby in between my corporate life. I’ve always been interested in art, but I didn't really pursue it at that point. When I had my son I was looking for a better balance in my life and I found that my job was pretty much taking over. I felt the desire to just paint and do something more creative. So I started painting more and more and started to exhibit, until I packed up the corporate job and never looked back. I can't imagine not having my art in my life. It's just something that I feel I was born to do.