- Helen Padilla: Drawing to Understand Relationships -
The intricate mark-making and energetic movement in Helen Padilla’s work captivated me from the first moment I saw it. Each time I went to pick up my morning coffee at the cafe showcasing her work, I would study the lines and colors and shapes, and left wanting to know more.
I had the immense privilege of inviting Helen to show at my studio this month. Initially, I assumed that we would have a standard art opening, with framed works by Helen. To my surprise (and delight), she showed up on installation day with rolls of paper instead. Her inspiration came from the space itself. The clean walls and volumes called for activation with an installation drawing instead. I was completely onboard!
That time working alongside her in the studio was so refreshing. Watching the drawing evolve in front of me was so cool, for lack of a better word! I wanted to share the process of that drawing here, visually, and share more about Helen through this interview.
Name: Helen Padilla
Job Title: Artist
Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
Meredith Christine: Tell me about your childhood. Where did you grow up? Were you always inclined to make art?
Helen Padilla: That was a long time ago! From memory, I was a fairly introverted kid who like to read, draw and walk in the woods. My parents moved a lot so I never lived in one place for long. I consider Flagstaff my home since I’ve been here for 20 years now.
MC: What other hobbies did you have growing up?
HP: I was pretty good at running short distances really fast.
MC: What did you study in art school?
HP: I have a BFA in Painting from Northern Arizona University.
MC: Who were some of your earlier artistic inspirations and how have they changed over time?
HP: I was pretty self directed early on. The urge to draw what was before me came naturally.
MC: Do you think your work is particularly reactive to your former work as an illustrator?
HP: Absolutely, all of my design sensibility came from studying and later working as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator.
MC: Did you have any mentors throughout your career?
HP: Yes, I did, and he thoroughly warned about the dangers of being an artist.
MC: What is is like working in Flagstaff? You create such contemporary work compared to most of what is seen in the region, do you feel like that makes it easier to get noticed, or that most people are just looking for landscape paintings and drawings?
HP: I’m just doing the work that comes freely from my heart. I’m not trying to be anything other than my true authentic self, which is a never ending lifelong quest.
MC: What mediums do you primarily work in? Are you interested in exploring other mediums?
HP: Drawing is my process and I use whatever means necessary to create the work. That can include, but is not limited to mark making tools and 3 dimensional materials like cloth and wire. I often remind myself, that there is always the possibility I could be working in the wrong media.
MC: Can you describe the process for creating a work? How long does it take to create them?
HP: I’ve created by best work in minutes or years. It all comes down to how clear my inspiration is at that moment.
MC: What’s one of your most common thoughts while painting? Is there one thing you feel constantly floating around?
HP: Fundamentally, all of my work reflects my anxieties within interpersonal relationships. I probably didn’t bond with my Mom or something.
MC: Tell me about the subjects of your paintings.
HP: I call the individual parts of the whole, Feeling Thingies. They aren’t unlike how our bodies are made up of parts working together to form our bodies.
MC: Do your subjects ever exhibit masculine or feminine traits? Are they genderless?
HP: They are all my different emotions. I think assigning a gender complicates my intention.
MC: Do physical objects ever factor into how your pieces take shape?
HP: I like to rock climb. I have found many repeated motifs in my work through that experience.
MC: Are your works a single frame, or part of a larger story?
HP: It’s becoming apparent that my work is a journal of sorts. And what kind of person would leave their journal around to read? That’s kinda crazy…
MC: Do you have a favorite piece of art?
HP: I’ve been pretty enamored with a multi colored lithograph by Ed Rucha, titled, That was then, This is now.
MC: You travel a great deal, how do your trips influence your art and career?
HP: Maybe it’s in my DNA, but there’s something comforting about watching the landscape go by, and finding all new situations with endless potential. It probably goes back to how my parents moved around a lot.
MC: Do you work with a gallery? How do you feel about the business aspects of making art?
HP: I have been lucky to have formed a relationship with a gallerist in Cottonwood who has supported me over the years. He operates the Mannheim Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood, Arizona. It’s not really a business, it’s a relationship with your audience. If you need business, don’t make art!
MC: What is the ideal day for you right now?
HP: Getting through the day without the guilt or dread of being a earth destroying parasite. But, those days are rare.
MC: Do you have any advice for emerging artists just starting to promote their work?
HP: Don’t be a play-it-safer. Go in the direction of greater risk. That’s where the gold is.
MC: What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
HP: I’ve been looking at Tarot cards for that answer. There have been some significant ruptures in my life recently. Trust doesn’t come easy for me, and now, more than anytime in my life, I gotta trust that it’s all going exactly as it should. Art making and life are not separate. Challenges can serve as points of departure for creativity. For me, being an artist is not a choice, it’s who I am.