Fleur Helluin: an interview
Fleur Helluin studied under the direction of Gilian Gelzer and Joel Hubaut in Caen, France, and Norbert Bisky in Salzburg, Austria. She was also part of the academic program, Art & Technology of the Image, at the University of Paris 8.
Since 2004, her work has explored the impact of screen-based culture on the contemporary figure. Her representational work incorporates the rich features linked to the use of the screen (light, posture, online vocabulary) to traditional oil painting. Through the representation of the contemporary figure, Helluin sheds a new light on the paradoxical mechanisms of the perception of ourselves and the world, engaging strongly with the present. Helluin's recent Herakles Series, made with egg tempera, gouache and oils marks a new turn in her practice, towards a freed figuration.
Helluin's painting practice incorporates performance, installation and sound experiments. Her work has been shown with Bill Viola, Norbert Bisky, Damien Cadio, and Cécile Wesolowski.
Helluin lives and works between Berlin, Germany and Normandy, France.
TUSSLE: What is your daily studio process?
Fleur Helluin: I work in the morning for all the organizational things and from 1 to 7pm in the studio. My routine is super repetitive, but every day I do different things. Unfortunately, the actual painting time is more and more reduced as I have to do budgets, organization, logistics, etc. So I’m super happy to have time to paint!
In the studio, life is very simple. I like to listen to music. Often it’s classical when I have to think, trashy pop when I do jobs like priming, preparing the workspace, organizing the works for a show etc. When I work (paint), I put on the radio, as I’m not really listening but it gives me an idea of the time.
Sometimes, the painting requires energetic body movement, and sometimes I’m stroking dot after dot for hours on end. I have to adapted to all those circumstances, which I enjoy very much.
A huge part of my work happens in my head prior the actual painting session. I think for hours and hours from waking up to going to bed. Nearly every day, I fall asleep thinking about how to paint this or that. This mental work is essential, as it’s my experimental space.
I also read mostly about painting and painters. My favorite book is My Father, by Jean Renoir - son of Auguste Renoir and filmmaker. It’s a great read.
TUSSLE: Do you prefer figurative painting styles to abstraction?
Fleur Helluin: It’s not so much that I prefer it, it’s more what I look at. All the shapes can be contained in a painting of something. So it makes it richer in my view. But there are also many abstract works that are amazing. So the distinction is more in how rich a work is.
In my painting, there are many abstract elements. In the Herakles series, the design of the grass is made to be a repetitive surface. It’s imaginable to have a full painting of it, becoming an abstract composition.
There are elements that compose a painted surface : light, shadows, surfaces, composition, colours, lines. I enjoy setting all those elements in motion within a narrative. There’s always a narrative when one paints an existing object.
A painting is an image that can or should be looked at for very long, it needs a certain richness, otherwise you can as well stare at a random wall (and why not, it’s also fun). So for the moment, I like it like that, this organization within a narrative.
TUSSLE: What is a project that you have always dreamed of creating but haven't been able to bring to light as of yet?
Fleur Helluin: From 2014 to 2018, I went every week to the Gemäldegalerie - when I was in Berlin of course. I always wanted to have more time there. Which is crazy, because in total I’ve probably spent more than 300 hours there! I would love so much to have the time to go there and at least paint a bit.
When I went, it was often with something to draw, there are some images on my Instagram. I have a Museum husband at the Gemäldegalerie, it’s the Saint Sebastian by Rubens. Look him up on the Internet, he’s hot. One day, I went with a friend of mine who said that he looks like my actual fiancé. So maybe I should make a sexy painting of him! He’s a writer, so it could be the cover of a future book! Well, now I have yet another project to do...
TUSSLE: Do you use any other mediums in your process?
Fleur Helluin: Yes I use photography, specially to paint objects. For the cake in Herakles and the Cake, instead of buying myself a huge cake, I found a couple of images on the web and used it.
I also take pictures myself. In my ongoing series of painting about digital antiphony (started in 2004), all the recent works come from pictures I took. Marianne, Madrid Night, Michel, London Bridge for example. I’m always on the hunt for the good image. Often, i have a visual idea in mind, and look for the opportunity to catch it.
At the moment, I’m in residency in Le Havre in France. The sky here is really intense. The painter Eugene Boudin worked a lot on it. I love skies and clouds and the sea. So obviously, I’ve been looking at the sky, waiting for the right kind of cloud in the right kind of light. It happened the other day, so I made a couple of pictures. In the studio this time, I’m using them as loose references, because I’m not specially after a sharp resemblance. But it’s useful to remember the tones and the shapes.
Back in the days, the painters had to have a notebook on them at all times. Now I just have my phone. Of course, it’s shaping the works, but so was the notebook.
TUSSLE: Do you think of your paintings as being diaristic in any way?
Fleur Helluin: I would not say so, but I might not be the best judge of it.The idea of a diary in the works makes me think of the concept that painting is a way of showing one’s emotions or something. I think it’s a wrong approach to want to ‘express yourself’ through the work. It’s phrasing the question upside down. The best personal expression actually comes when one is forgetting about the ego, therefore of the everyday mundane winds.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t pour my personal life in the works, it means I want to step aside from the anecdotal nature of a diary. I paint the best when I forget about everything else than painting, the ego is gone. Painting is about being fully.
When we look at a work, we perceive some elements of person behind, in an elevated way not in an everyday manner. When we look at a Vermeer, it’s not exactly helping us unveil the mystery of his personal life. What matters is that his painting opens a space that we share with him.
Check out more of Fleur's work:
Solo Exhibition, Herakles, 19-29.11.2019, Galerie de l’Angle, Paris
Artist residency at the Fort de Tourneville, Le Havre, France until the 30th of November
Look out for her work in 2020 at:
Moyaux, Normandy and in Bruxelles