City lights and Railway Sleepers: Portrait of a Young Artist

City lights and Railway Sleepers

“Even art doesn’t know what art’s about”
– Helen Perkins

Helen Perkins, a very close friend of mine, is a young artist who paints very beautiful paintings, and I think it’s time to write a post on her work before she’s too famous to talk to me.

Her paintings are flickering moments, quietly observed. A pretty young woman caught close up, with an impenetrable expression that seems to shift as you look into it, seems to stand alone in the night-time glare of the City. Another beautiful girl lies alone, seeming to radiate light in the gloom of a railway carriage. It’s Hopper, only more tender; less analytical, more involved, more lovely. And yet, somehow darker. Stare at these paintings long enough and you’ll find anxiety worming in your stomach.

Helen tells me that she has one reoccurring dream, a dream in which she finds herself suddenly alone in the late night City, walking an endless street under lamp-light. I notice that this is the self-portrait she has painted: the girl with the ambiguous expression is Helen herself, looking not at us, but past us, into the nothingness of the endless night.

I ask Helen if she is an anxious person. “Sometimes. At the moment”, she says. Asking why, she tells me a story that must surely be familiar to all artists, particularly the young: “I don’t know sometimes how to continue balancing finding time to be an artist against paying the bills. It’s a hard time to be an artist. I have a reoccurring day-mare: one day I’ll have to give this up and get an office job. In actual fact, I do work an office job! My fears have been realised.”

Sleeper: painted on commission, for London architect, in 2009.

Despite this, Helen still finds time to paint commissioned pieces, and recently held her second exhibition in Derby, alongside fellow artist Emily Garces. “I get by, just about”. Looking through her sketch books, I see that she still finds time to draw, too. “That’s just practice”, she tells me, of a series of very fine pencil portraits. One stands out particularly: an Indian lady, eyes closed and slightly swollen.

“Is she dead?!” I ask. “No! Just meditating”, Helen assures me.

I ask a couple of final questions: who do you admire?

“Lucian Freud, of course, Benjamin Sullivan, Stuart Pearson-Wright – who I recently met, actually – and… all the new portrait painters who actually look at people; art that isn’t alienating”, she replies.

“What do you mean by that?”, I ask.

“Modern art often seems to me not to be, as the critical consensus maintains, inviting the viewer to engage, and create their own interpretations. To most people it just means what the gallery blurb says, and you have to go with that or else you’re left with a piece of art that you can’t go anywhere with. I don’t mean to diss anyone’s art… It’s not that I think it’s elitist, I just don’t think some of it’s really very interesting”.

“I like art with people in it. There’s always room for interpretation in that dynamic between the viewer and the painted subject. You don’t need the artist to explain that.”


—-Wit x

Take a look at more of Helen’s work:

City lights and Railway Sleepers

“Even art doesn’t know what art’s about”

– Helen Perkins

My closest friend is a young artist, who paints very beautiful paintings, and I think it’s time to write a post on her work before she’s too famous to talk to me.


Her paintings are flickering moments, quietly observed. A pretty young woman caught close up, with an impenetrable expression that seems to shift as you look into it, seems to stand alone in the night-time glare of the City. Another beautiful girl lies alone, seeming to radiate light in the gloom of a railway carriage. It’s Hopper, only more tender; less analytical, more involved, more lovely. And yet, somehow darker. Stare at these paintings long enough and you’ll find anxiety worming in your stomach.

Helen’s Website
Helen’s Gallery

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~ by Wit on November 22, 2009.

10 Responses to “City lights and Railway Sleepers: Portrait of a Young Artist”

  1. I really enjoyed this post, especially the “examples in this post” portion which made it really easy for me to SEE what you were talking about without even having to leave the article. Thanks

  2. Excellent post!! Very informative… Looking for more posts like this!! Do you have twitter or an RSS feed?
    Anyway thank you for this blog.

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  6. Keep up the good work! I enjoy reading what you say. I might not agree with everything, but it’s still good.

  7. First-rate write-up and seriously assists with becoming familiar with the topic better. Well, at least: it would help if I wasn’t a goddamn mindless spammer.

  8. very lovely article and the examples are awesome. love it!

  9. Marvelous website, thank You !!

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