NOTES ON RECENT WORK
Helen Booth was born in 1967 and spent her early life in the Midlands of England. She graduated with a degree in Painting from The Wimbledon School of Art in 1989 at the age of twenty-one, under Bernard Cohen, Prunella Clough and George Blacklock, and worked part-time as an artist in the film and video industry to fund her studio in London. In 1996 she moved to South West Wales, where she lives and paints full time.
For almost thirty years, the formation and adaptation of memories have been the nucleus of Booth’s expansive archive of oil paintings, prints, etchings and installations. An enduring feature of her work throughout her career is the delicately layered networks of filamentous strokes of paint that cover her canvases. Her recent paintings explore the intangibility and ephemerality of memories through the application of paint in varying patterns and opacities. The lattice motifs are a kaleidoscopic tool to generate surface networks and are an attempt to physically represent an abyss of thought, often acting as a representation of Booth’s personal experiences with, and grasp of, love and loss.
Booth grew up in a matriarchal family, with an absence of male role models. Her work emulates the aesthetic characteristics of traditionally feminine materials and crafts practiced by herself with her female relatives during her youth, such as knitting and crocheting, while simultaneously portraying them in the traditionally male-dominated art form of painting. We Are Unravelling: Portrait of my Grandmother is a prime example of this concept. Here, Booth depicts the fragmentation of her personal family life while concurrently connecting them to her vivid memory of unravelling second-hand jumpers and recycling them into new items of clothing with her Grandmother during the emotionally intense moments of her parents’ separation. The work evokes micro-cosmic insights into Booth’s personal life and the solace provided by creativity, while also celebrating the strong, powerful nature of her own female relationships.
The vehemence of relationships and memory in Helen Booth’s work is emulated in the rapport with her process and materials during creation. The ebb and flow of building up a mark simply to remove it a few days later, leaving a shadow on gesso primed canvas, acts as a physical metaphor to represent the sense of traceable absence similar to the faint mark left by a lost friend or relative. A knowledge and trust in her own process is displayed in the balanced tension of her work as layers of built up, heavy oil paint and gesso rest weightlessly on the canvas. Working on several pieces at any one time, her paintings are constantly in a state of flux up until the last layer of paint is applied, meaning that though each painting ends as a stand-alone piece, it is created while part of a group. This crucial aspect of Booth’s practice results in a body of work that not only compliments itself but reveals more to the viewer over time.
Veneers of visual harmony and regular pattern act as a thematic thread through all of Helen Booth’s work. Attempting to physically embody the breakdown of relationships, Booth uses seemingly pristine surfaces as distractive masks to conceal sombre, dark stimuli. Coty L’aimant: Portrait of My Mother laces a rich, yellow-toned peach over a deep, blue-black that slowly creeps through the light in the foreground. Though Mustard and Custard Are Both F*cking Yellow: Portrait of My Father shares visual likeness to Booth’s Portrait of My Mother, the lines depicted are not linked, but fractured. Her tactful use of subtle visual differences hidden behind thematic titles and colours act as a tool to strengthen the theme of fragmented familiarity, by sensitively tying together her entire body of paintings and drawings.
While simultaneously contradicting and marrying what is said with what is shown, Helen Booth’s recent paintings discuss the adaptation and evolution of relationships. The culmination and embodiment of this notion is manifested in You Forgot What You Said. This contradiction between delicate beauty and aggressively bold line, of freedom and structure, is what makes Helen Booth’s work very much her own. You Forgot What You Said is a visual cacophony, demanding attention with quiet power of colour and confident line. In the painting, she depicts an acceptance in the disintegration of memory in both title and work, and invites us to do the same. Using pastel, cool-toned hues, Booth slowly eases us into considering and embracing age, loss and death.
Somehow firmly planted between the layers of paint is an intangible sense of temporariness and brevity. Her poetic, melodic titles paired with an expertly sensitive use of tough oil-paint produces paintings that distract us from the physical brutality of their creation and stimuli, and lead us to focus on her own (and society’s current) infatuation with beauty. This ferocious brazenness results in a climax of subtle colour and secret confidence that presents itself to the viewer in pensive stages; evoking a peculiar sense of suspension in time and in feeling.
Artist & Writer 2017
Helen Booth’s work haunts the observer with a meditativeness that teeters on the edge of the void. Beauty resonates and pervades, but there’s a melancholy in the cool colours, a sense of alienation between the points of light and dark burrs. What’s special is her assured rhythms and her unsentimentality, but it is the ubiquitous motile threads that pulls us back from the brink and balances the work with such rare, ludic and dramatic promise.