This series profiles artists, makers and cultural/ heritage sector workers who live, work or want to work in Northumberland.
I was delighted to connect with artist Helen Pailing this month.
Helen has had an inspiring few years and launched an incredible artwork at the rePUBlic Gallery in Blyth (*) recently.
Here she tells us more about her practise, her plans and her big dreams.
Helen and her piece 'Rare Bird', RePUBlic Gallery
Can you tell us a bit about you and your practise?
I’m an artist-maker and I ‘recraft waste’ materials into sculptures, assemblages and site-specific interventions.
Sometimes the materials I use are a remnant from the process of making, such as glass from the lamp working process. More often than not the materials are what people who know me and my work gift me – spools of thread, broken mirrors, fixtures and fittings.
I find it hard to say no, as I see so much potential in the objects that surround us. The materials are often the starting point for new ideas and I stitch, weave and use craft techniques to transform them into something new.
Re-using materials destined for landfill is my own quiet way to bring awareness to seemingly non-precious or redundant ‘waste’ material and to celebrate the value within all matter.
What are you currently working on?
I have recently installed a solo exhibition Rare Bird at rePUBlic Gallery in Blyth (open until Feb 18th). This exhibition has emerged as a response to the site of the gallery in the port of Blyth – a place where industry meets the sea. The show comprises new, light-based sculptures alongside re-worked and re-assembled pieces.
Mat Fleming helped with some technical aspects and I worked with Marek Gabrysch on an experimental sound piece that is activated by a fan – a nod to the wind turbine that towers behind the gallery.
Now I am focussing on some new work for Collect art fair at Somerset House, London, 2nd – 5th March. I am one of 14 makers showing as part of Collect Open. I will be showing three wall-based light sculptures that incorporate salvaged glass from the North East (Mayflower Glass and Wearside Glass Sculptures).
In April I’m looking forward to talking at the MOTHEROTHER Artist meet up in Sunderland. I’ll be sharing my own experience of becoming a mother and trying to continue with my art career, as well as talking about my part-time job running the art residency programme in Northumberland, Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC).
Last year I was awarded the NGC Glass Prize Bursary alongside Cath Forsyth. You can still see the work at the National Glass Centre until 12th March.
My research was inspired by becoming a mother around the time of the pandemic - thinking about the implications of contact with others and how hair can be the receptor for touch. This led me to make hair-like pieces of glass that could break when touched.
'Intertidal zone', The PUBlic Window, RePUBlic Gallery
What’s your 'big dream' for the future?
This changes regularly but generally it is based around having a large studio to work in and store all my materials. The dream would be to live in a lighthouse with a home studio and to have something public facing like a gallery. Is that too much to ask?
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an artist?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that an artistic career is only about the creative process and free from admin. There is a lot of time spent writing applications, editing, promoting and communicating when you work on a project, so
it is good to try and be organised.
Ultimately you must enjoy the act of creating work, and make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
Graduating from BA (hons) Embroidery (MMU) in 2004, Helen continued to develop her interest in the material culture of craft studying MA Designer Maker (UAL) which she completed in 2012.
Helen was the 2013-14 artist in residence with Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) and has lived in the North East ever since. In 2018 following on from her experience in community-based project management, she became Project Director of the Charity.
In 2019 Helen completed an AHRC funded, practice-based PhD from UoS (based at National Glass Centre) entitled 'Recrafting Waste Using a Stitch-Based Methodology: A Collaboration Between Makers and Matter'.
She has work in private and public collections including the V&A and National Glass Centre.
Follow Helen online and stay up to date with her work here;
Photo credits - Colin Davison.
(*) The RePUBlic Gallery is an art gallery and community space in the centre of Blyth, Northumberland. Based on the ground floor of the former public house, The Kings Head. Here's what they tell us about this relatively new and very innovative and exciting venue;
"We recognise and value the rich history of our building and its social and cultural significance within the town. We are committed to a program of exhibitions that are reactive and champion local engagement. We hope RePUBlic will be a place to inspire and energise creativity.
Alongside The RePUBlic Gallery is The PUBlic Window, our window box gallery, which has for the past year exhibited a new artist every month. The PUBlic Window was our answer to the endless lockdowns and delays to physical exhibitions, it has since become a vital part of our program. We run call-outs for artists to exhibit in the window throughout the year
As we move into our second year with both the gallery and the window open, we welcome proposals from artists, community groups and business to borrow, hire and fill our gallery with exciting projects. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday 8am – 4pm with entrance through The Kings Head Café.