Art Sets.

The art that made me: Helen Wright

By the Art Gallery of NSW
Helen Wright in her studio. Photo: Peter Whyte

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Helen Wright in her studio. Photo: Peter Whyte

In The art that made me, artists discuss works in the Art Gallery of NSW collection that either inspire, influence or simply delight them. This selection by Helen Wright first appeared in Look – the Gallery’s members' magazine.

Interactions between humanity and the natural world often lie at the heart of Sydney-born, Hobart-based artist and printmaker Helen Wright’s work, which features in Real worlds: Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial 2020.

‘I’m delighted to be part of the biennial, as it celebrates the strength and inventive possibilities of drawing within contemporary art practice,’ Wright says. ‘I’m also grateful for the opportunity to exhibit in such a respected institution as it has allowed me to work on a monumental scale and in great depth.’ The following are works Wright has chosen from the Gallery’s collection that resonate with her own practice.

Aida Tomescu Seria Unu I-IV

This authoritative series of abstract aquatint prints delivers a quality of raw power that is made possible only when the deep ‘gutsy’ blackness of ink is pressed into dampened receptive paper with considerable pressure. I respond to this series instinctively and because the primal sensibility delivered in these works is so forthright that they can’t be dismissed or forgotten. Yet there are also some gentle and lyrical qualities. Aida Tomescu’s command of both the medium and the process of drawing allows this range of responses to coexist. The series is so completely different from my own printmaking but, within the journey of a practice, often it is the works outside your comfort zone that resonate in the longer term and such is the case in this instance.

Robert Klippel Philadelphia

All Robert Klippel’s collages fascinate and inspire me. Many are small worlds intricately and obsessively constructed from the familiar and the everyday. There’s no hierarchy of importance, just an open-ended response to what may emerge spatially by chance when the cut-and-paste process dislodges recognisable object fragments from their original sources.

This photomontage of metallic junkyard scraps celebrates the inventive possibilities of collage. Such an uninhibited exploration as a way of working has significant affinity with my own thinking and image making, especially my Scrapstack series of drawings, examples of which appear in Real worlds. Philadelphia’s energy swings between unstable logic and spatial displacement, only to re-emerge, astonishingly, as a rhythmical unity of rise
and fall.

Zhang Xiaogang The boy who sticks out his tongue

In 1977, a year after the death of Chairman Mao, I visited China with a group of staff and students from the Tasmanian School of Art. The official uniformity, regimentation and enforced distance inherent in our chaperoned interactions with very few Chinese people left a lasting impression. So, when I first saw this painting, I gasped. Its cinematic scale and the haunting, fog-like subtlety of the blurred background brought back the sense of imposed disconnection I had felt as I stared at others through windows in 1977. Puzzled groups of Chinese people stared back and they no doubt saw us as equally unknowable. For me, the painting captures this quality. He is so human but also so other-worldly. All this is made especially confronting by the boy’s childlike act of defiance as he sticks out his tongue. It’s a gesture of his nonconformity and individuality reinforced by the small pink stain on the boy’s cheek, that I interpret as a birthmark.

Anne Judell Mute

Mute is a mesmerising mix of graphite, pastel and charcoal. These are all materials that individually produce such seductive surfaces that their working together within this one image and with such sensitivity is hard to forget. I use the word ‘seductive’ because this artwork holds one’s attention and draws you in. Its overlapping folds might be layers of diaphanous chiffon or even moonlight on layers of an iced rock face. Wherever this work transports you to, you want to keep looking and you can’t be distracted. The drawing is so nuanced that your eye travels in through and back across the work simultaneously, as if there’s no escape. In a world that’s overwhelmingly oversaturated with white noise, the silence and the stillness of this work is a visual tonic.