Contemporary still life
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About Helen Samuels
Based in Hastings, United Kingdom. member for 3 Years
My current painting practice centres on the representation of objects and is inspired by the history of still life painting – in particular, 17th century Dutch vanitas paintings, a genre which employed objects as a kind of commentary on contemporary moral and social concerns, as well as exploiting their aesthetic potential. I am interested in the psychological and symbolic impact of objects and how we use and arrange them in ways which create suggestive narratives.
My approach to composition is to photograph objects gathered in pre-existing display settings such as museums and shop windows, in other words ‘readymade’ still life groupings, from which I can isolate an image which will often incorporate incidental reflections and chance juxtapositions of objects. In this way, although the paintings are fully representational, the incidental surface qualities introduce a degree of abstraction and visual ambiguity. It is important to me that the images have the feel of something that is part of a wider context; that this image forms part of an infinite series.
My particular take on vanitas is to memorialise the fleeting aesthetic of temporary displays in which the objects depicted are a kind of vernacular of consumerism, tying the image to a specific time and place. In a visually saturated culture, the ‘stillness’ of still life is the essential quality that I find most compelling and that I wish to convey in my work.