Monday, February 25, 2013

Actress turns to Art to heal from chronic illness

Interview with Helen Hanson
by @schulmanArt, Miriam Schulman,

Collect Helen's art at NonToxicSpiritArt
SchulmanArt: When did you decide to be a professional artist?
Helen Hanson: I've been making visual art since I had to quit acting and move away from the city to the country for my health. I was born outside of Philadelphia and grew up on the East Coast. Lived in the Los Angeles area for most of my adult life, now based in the Flathead Valley of Montana. My current environment is suggestive of a mountain resort, which is important to maintaining the peace and solitude I need for art making. However, as I struggle with chronic illness (granulomatosis with polyangiitis, formerly known as Wegener's, a life-altering form of vasculitis) environment plays a more definite role in defining me as an artist and an individual, because I require an environment free of chemical toxins, so my immune system will not be unduly triggered.That's been about eight years now. In forming a positive response to my health crisis, I fell in love with art making as dharma, as a meditative practice. At the start of this year (Jan. 2013) my work was exhibited at Hockaday Museum of Art, so I can embrace the truth now: I am a real, professional artist!

Helen in her studio
Where did you study art?  
Helen Hanson: Growing up, I did a lot of self study in the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art. My mother was a docent, so I literally spent hours upon hours absorbing the various artists and movements. I found myself most attracted to Klimt, O'Keefe and Degas. Today I pursue professional development as a member of the Montana Arts Council.

What is your favorite medium to work in and why? 
Helen Hanson: I enjoy the format of collage, because it is intuitive and I find inspiration from the way various colors, materials and textures relate to one another. Just like a conversation, dialogue with the materials allows me to follow every piece to its natural conclusion. I will pursue an idea if it is persistent. If a piece insinuates itself into my thoughts and won't leave, then I give it a chance in the studio.

COEXISTENCE COLLAGE buddha swathed in peaceful gold, faux jewel accent

Describe a typical day for you.
HH: One of the things about chronic illness is there are no typical days. I tend to waken early and bring awareness first to my physical state, sensing my energy level and overall well being. Then I bring awareness to my mental and emotional states, inventorying anything that requires completion and ideas I may have for new work. Then I show up in the studio. It may be for one hour, it may be for ten, but I always show up. Relying on creative energy is my strategy for survival.

What is your studio space like? 
HH: My studio walls are painted a rich, dark red. I enjoy gorgeous views of the Montana sky, with lots of natural light over the mountains. Inside, I am surrounded with objects from nature that inspire me: a birds nest, an animal skull, a fossil or a seed pod. My trusty pooch hangs around as a studio mascot.

What's on the easel now?
HH: Lately, I've seen most interest in my large-format reproductions of collages featuring arresting imagery such as "Damaged," and original woven handmade paper collages such as "Water Basket," inspired by Native American imagery.

Other artists who use healing as imagery in their art...