Helen Van Wyk
By Jan Claire
In mid-1994 after a hearty lunch of lobster sandwiches Herb gathered up from a local Rockport restaurant and brought home, Helen and
I sat down in her private studio for a short while and just chatted.
- What do you feel is the real secret behind your painting success?
- I don't think I can put my finger on one thing. The whole secret is the years you spend learning your craft. It's the same way
with a pianist, or a singer of opera. I like to tell people who ask me how long it took to finish a painting that it took me 2 days.....and
40 years! But if I had to put it into quick advice, I would say, "always paint plausibly". You see if a painting isn't plausible to
the viewer then nothing else you can do will make it that way.
- Your mentor, Maxmillian Rasko, he was a portrait painter?
- Oh he was much more than just that. He was a teacher. I mean a real teacher, the sort whose every waking moment is devoted to
showing you the way. One time he went out and bought a big bag of apples. He poured them out onto a table and told me, "Now spend
the day painting these apples". So I did as I was told.
When the painting was completed, he went over and put the apples back into the bag. Then he brought me the bag of apples and said, "All
right now, I want you to pull each apple out of the bag and tell me which one is which in your painting!" It was a tough lesson in
the difference between knowing - as we all do - that no two apples are alike, and actually painting them so you could tell
- Who is Gertrude?
- (Laughs) Gertrude was a student in a seminar some time ago. She painted a beautiful pear with an unusual lump in it. The lump was
so counter to the rest of the painting, I asked her why she put it there. "Because it WAS there," she said. Well that's a good
example of why the artist should be in charge. She would have been much better off omitting the lump, because it drew the viewer's
eye straight to the lump and you missed the beauty of the succulent pear. She should have painted what should BE, not
necessarily what she saw. There's that plausibility thing again.
(Note:the following is my favorite of all the thousands of "Helenisms"
- You really put everything into painting! In this morning's demonstration you finished with your hands and arms covered with paint,
it's on your blouse, the floor. You really get into it!
- (feigning surprise!) Well that's the essense of most artists' problems with painting, you know. Timidity. You CAN'T be timid. Don't
be in awe of painting. Don't be afraid of the process! Grab it with gusto and beat the CRAP out of it!"
After the interview we went back into our final afternoon of class and everyone departed with best wishes for their homes around