Helen Eager

Duets

May 2020

exhibition essay

Duets

Artists are used to isolation, the vast majority of their time is spent alone in their studios, immersed in their work. Helen Eager usually begins a new body of work with drawings, lots of drawings. Notebooks, concertina books and sketch pads get filled and then expand to larger sheets of paper until her studio is almost overtaken, and then one day stretchers appear, small, medium, large and very large. It takes time for these to get the multiple coats of gesso required, but slowly they transform from raw linen to the shimmering field of white on which her coloured forms will play.

This process takes time but it feels like almost overnight the drawings have vanished and the paintings have appeared. Of course painting is nothing like drawing, so this is a different time in the studio, the small and intimate gives way to the big and the bold. Helen drafts up the forms onto her canvas in many ways. She uses large coloured shapes, pencil lines and little cotton strings, stretched and taped in place to map out her compositions. She uses her drawings as a guide, not a template, and they are soon discarded as the paintings take on a life of their own.

The title of the show, DUETS describes the paintings well. Two forms, made from the same elements, sit on opposite sides of the canvas.  Each shape is made up of three parts, an equilateral triangle top and bottom and the quadrilateral joining section between. They sit/float on the familiar white field. Here the duet begins, the two abstract forms, like characters in a drama or performance, have presence and inflection that creates the powerful connections that we can instantly relate to. Two people dancing, two singers in harmony, two skaters on the ice, two characters in a play, a couple in the kitchen. It’s situations like these that come to mind when looking at these works. The dynamic tension between the two forms is  palpable, so much so that the white ground takes on a new role and now becomes the stage.

There has been a shift in the painting too. Eager is well known for her colour which has largely appeared in strong blocks.  Her shapes were always made up of many thin layers of paint, which gave them their luminosity, but in this new work the paint has been brushed on in a way that has modulated the surfaces. They are no longer flat, there is a tactility and a softness which adds to the subtlety of the forms. It’s been interesting to see these paintings emerge from the whiteness, layer by layer, shape by shape, as they are almost tickled into life, to have a presence, a substance, and even a relationship.

DUETS are some of the most nuanced paintings of Eager’s career, they are out of isolation and the lights are on them!

CH, 2020

Duets

Artists are used to isolation, the vast majority of their time is spent alone in their studios, immersed in their work. Helen Eager usually begins a new body of work with drawings, lots of drawings. Notebooks, concertina books and sketch pads get filled and then expand to larger sheets of paper until her studio is almost overtaken, and then one day stretchers appear, small, medium, large and very large. It takes time for these to get the multiple coats of gesso required, but slowly they transform from raw linen to the shimmering field of white on which her coloured forms will play.

This process takes time but it feels like almost overnight the drawings have vanished and the paintings have appeared. Of course painting is nothing like drawing, so this is a different time in the studio, the small and intimate gives way to the big and the bold. Helen drafts up the forms onto her canvas in many ways. She uses large coloured shapes, pencil lines and little cotton strings, stretched and taped in place to map out her compositions. She uses her drawings as a guide, not a template, and they are soon discarded as the paintings take on a life of their own.

The title of the show, DUETS describes the paintings well. Two forms, made from the same elements, sit on opposite sides of the canvas.  Each shape is made up of three parts, an equilateral triangle top and bottom and the quadrilateral joining section between. They sit/float on the familiar white field. Here the duet begins, the two abstract forms, like characters in a drama or performance, have presence and inflection that creates the powerful connections that we can instantly relate to. Two people dancing, two singers in harmony, two skaters on the ice, two characters in a play, a couple in the kitchen. It’s situations like these that come to mind when looking at these works. The dynamic tension between the two forms is  palpable, so much so that the white ground takes on a new role and now becomes the stage.

There has been a shift in the painting too. Eager is well known for her colour which has largely appeared in strong blocks.  Her shapes were always made up of many thin layers of paint, which gave them their luminosity, but in this new work the paint has been brushed on in a way that has modulated the surfaces. They are no longer flat, there is a tactility and a softness which adds to the subtlety of the forms. It’s been interesting to see these paintings emerge from the whiteness, layer by layer, shape by shape, as they are almost tickled into life, to have a presence, a substance, and even a relationship.

DUETS are some of the most nuanced paintings of Eager’s career, they are out of isolation and the lights are on them!

CH, 2020