Helena Wurzel is a painter living in Cambridge, MA. Helena received an MFA in painting from Boston University. She started working with the online start-up www.20x200.com, which sells high quality archival prints of her work in 2011. It was through this venue, that a design director at Kate Spade saw the painting entitled “My Butt” and asked Helena to paint an ad campaign for the promotion of their new Saturday line. Helena worked with the company from their launch in 2012 until they closed in 2015. Jonathan Adler, the design guru, saw her work in a Saturday store and she displayed her paintings in his retail stores in Los Angeles, Miami, and online from 2015-2018. She has won Massachusetts Cultural Council Grants in 2010 and 2016. She has been featured in New American Paintings Northeast Competition issue #92 and was the cover artist for the 2020 Featured Artist/Recent Work catalogue.
I make paintings to tell stories about the lives of women. They are depictions of modern female friendships and my family in singular moments of self-reflection and celebration. Whether capturing a glance, driving, or someone daydreaming, the figures’ actions reveal the narrative. They are often absorbed in their own quiet moment of daily living. Most recently, I have focused on the ways in which figures occupy outdoor spaces, such as scenes from my block, the garden, and the car. My love of pattern and color is incorporated through clothing, which also emphasizes my love of fashion. I include other accessories such as sunglasses, jewelry, and iphones as a way of adding texture, reflections, and referencing current cultural icons. Formal elements such as color and light help create specific moods and my style tends to be bold and graphic. I hope to unlock something extraordinary about everyday scenes. The core of my work is rooted in the concept of self-portraiture and my paintings are inherently tied to the feminine realm.
Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
I grew up in Newton, MA and my parents are both supporters of the arts. My father plays classical guitar and my mother was a weaver and is now an embroiderer. We had a huge loom in our living room. They were both encouraging of letting me pursue my interest in art. As a kid, I loved crafts and I learned to sew–I made jewelry and clothes and I always loved to draw. It wasn’t until college that I discovered painting and I haven’t ever wanted to stop.
Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?
While I have been encouraged along the way, I don’t believe that anyone else can give this to you. You have to want to make your own art and figure out how to fit it into your life. I have a deep internal need to make paintings. Everything I make is like solving a puzzle with its own unique set of rules, and I love puzzles. The most important thing is to keep making.
What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?
I am most interested in telling stories about the lives of women through the lens of self-portraiture. I’ve always been attracted to female protagonists in literature, film, and art and my favorite books tend to be ones where a woman tells a story about self-actualization. I’m interested in how we look at ourselves, how we look at each other, what we wear, our alone behaviors, and our together behaviors. There is the reality and monotony of daily life versus the fantasy of what we want it to be—I’m trying to show some hybrid of both, small mundane moments made more extraordinary than real life in my world of painting.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My daily life, my friends and family, and the world as I observe it in my immediate surroundings are my biggest influence. Scenes from my block, the garden, and my car set the stage for how my figures occupy outdoor spaces. I love depicting the seasons and their changing colors and light. Clothing, patterns, accessories like iPhones, and reflections add texture and reference current cultural icons. There is so much beauty in the everyday. Painting is like trying to capture a fleeting moment made visible–something that makes your heart surge.
If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?
I would be making something. I love the process of creating.