Hélène Farrar, What We Carry: The Balance, encaustic on panel, 30 x 22 inches
Hélène Farrar, What We Carry: Later On, encaustic and painted small person model, 4 x 4 inches
Hélène Farrar, What We Carry: Middle Age, encaustic and painted small person model, 4 x 4 inches
Hélène Farrar, What We Carry: Work Day, encaustic and painted small person model,4 x 4 inches
Last week I was fortunate to catch up with Hélène Farrar. Time and distance have made a studio visit difficult for the present so I asked her some questions by email, both about her artistic intention and her life as an artist, mother, and wife up in Manchester, Maine.
Here is her statement:
“What We Carry” is intended as a catalyst for discussion of the state of the human condition. Individually or collectively, how might we be carrying with us an entire room of a life or a singular chapter, a traumatic experience of weight, that defines our choices in our ways of being. These works allow one to see trials of life on the surface as an act of personal intention, as self-reflection, and personal contemplation, in the present. It is that balance between our “load’ and “everyday” that can tell our stories—what we seem and what we need—like a window into the distant lands that inhabit our physical gestures, human connections, emotions and imaginations. This work is designed with great optimism, to not allow those “things” to define us but rather to drive our intentions in how we live, representing a newly weaved mosaic of a life that witnesses the present.
You have made ‘what we carry’ into content for this series. How did that come about?
The concept of “container” has been of interest to me for years and I kept “trying it on” with an artwork here and there. I am very interested in how our bodies keep score of our life experiences and how that manifests in our everyday. My own way of being is quite sensitive and I pick up on both the subtle and dramatic ways of others—there is a part of me that wants others to see how they are seen.
There is a woman in our small town that carries a rolling cart, always with her, packed securely. I’d see her unwrap eloquently in our local grocery store. She seems to be completely into her business of doing so, and when she looks up I would try so hard to make eye contact with her. My intrigue in what she was carrying, who she is, is years-long…my paths crossing with hers many times. One notable time was around 10 at night. I was carrying my large hockey gear bag out to my car, not looking around much. It was very cold out. And there she was, pulling her cart, headed out to the road. My car and her cart seemed to meet at the intersection of the main road. I think we shared a five-second eye-to-eye contact. I know there is more to her story. My family and I have named her the “Rain Lady”. She can be seen be wearing a raincoat in all weather.
I think there is more than just what meets the eye in one’s ways of being.
Though these works are not “about” trauma they do come from a place of knowing trauma. And though folks have responded to this work personally, they do not necessarily come from my Personal. I have been researching a variety of topics to explore this series including individuals seeking asylum, political climate, contemporary news stories, storytelling from others, and general idea development from sketchbook drawings and other artist’s works.
You wrote: “These works allow one to see trials of life on the surface as an act of personal intention, self-reflection, and personal contemplation in the present.” Tell me more.
If individuals can truly connect with these images at some level, then they are digging deeper into themselves and their ‘everyday’. At least I hope so. I am an overtly optimistic person because in my life experience I have been into some very dark places—and I don’t want to stay there. I hope people will connect and grow from the works.
Why is “telling our stories” an important part of your art-making?
I have tried again and again to break from stories. I am a Maine Artist. We have a crazy long history and strong connection to American Art, and I am always falling in love with this “place”. But when I make work that looks like it’s more about a beautiful tree than anything else, I am missing something really big on how I truly make my mark as an artist.
How have you balanced the “load’ and the “everyday”?
I am laughing out loud! Certainly some ‘everydays’ are better balanced then others. And it’s taken me quite a while in this creative life to find the recipe for keeping me afloat in the juggle. Yesterday was my first day back at “work” after almost ten days off. It started with teaching twelve kids ages 10 – 13 who have joined me in an extraordinary art-science-technology summer camp that I am collaboratively teaching with my engineer husband. Then an afternoon of catching up on email. Dinner back at the homestead with my almost 10-year-old daughter, then back to the studio for a late-night painting spree. I am normally nocturnal and really like working at night. It doesn’t really “work” well with the school year calendar, though. I can’t paint till midnight and get up 6 AM more than once a week. I have certainly tried.
How often do you get into your studio to work?
I really try to get in at least 15 hours a week of just art-making. But I do a lot of other work at my studio too–this is a lively place with many different folks coming in here weekly for art learnings. I have classes for very young artists, ages 3 – 5, plus retirees getting their fix in watercolor and drawing, and then kids afterschool. An eleven-year-old life-timer at my studio calls it her Sacred Space. Four years ago I bought an old farmhouse and use four large rooms, including a massive kitchen, as both my studio and shared studio spaces. The rest of the building is home to my husband’s engineering company.
How have you fit in studio time into your family schedule?
It has to fit because I turn into a real grouch if I don’t get that focused time. My husband is a wise man and super supportive, and sees how important the process of making stuff is to my well-being. He is willing to give up some of our “us” time so I can work. Since I recently retired from teaching in any public institutions, my schedule has a new sort of flexibility and that really helps with the juggle.
I have an incredibly busy mind and nimble hands. They have to be put to work.
What other activities are important for you to feel like a balanced person?
I like to play and be active. I am a grown-up child. If I can get in a few times a week to ride my bike or take a good brisk walk out on the trails behind our house it makes for a lot less frazzled Mother and Artist.
See more of Farrar’s work at http://www.helenefarrar.com/
Balancing Acts is on view until September 4, 2016
Artist’s reception: Thursday, August 4 from 5-7 pm