Helen Grundy | Issue Ten Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work?

I am a contemporary fine artist based in Birmingham. I make unusual objects, collages and drawings. I split my time 50/50 between making art and working with homeless people. I try to keep these two halves of life separate but its impossible not be affected by the people I support. In my work life I am constantly confronted with the terrible effects of political failure and this can be hard to deal with. Art is a way to distract me from everyday life, to place my focus on being creative and to have fun. I often feel I have two vocations and I take both seriously. I am currently making big changes in my lifestyle, embracing minimalist values and living an intentional life. I often make work that is humourous, strange and quirky, and I do enjoy making people smile and laugh. I am not interested in making, what I consider dull art. My artworks are filled with humour but there is a lot of meaning behind each piece.

What potential do you feel artists have to help bring about change?

In a social media obsessed society, where images seem to have more impact than words, I feel there is a huge potential to provoke audiences through art. I am however a realist and understand that people who attend art galleries are often people who share the same political views that I do. This is why I am interested in reaching groups that feel excluded from contemporary fine art. It is my desire to make art more accessible so I have developed a new project called FEARMAIL, which blends street art/protest/satire with one of the most ephemeral of materials I could think of, used envelopes. I am installing artworks inside window pane envelopes. I want to encourage a new art audience, I want so called, ‘ordinary people’ to become patrons of the arts and commission me to make them pieces of art. I want to invent and then develop a new art form.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of nostalgia and its bittersweet effect on our senses. We delight in remembering the past but are simultaneously struck with a huge sense of loss. Every piece of art I make I consider to be a souvenir from my life. I rummage through my childhood and adulthood, selecting potent memories, objects and experiences and then try to make work from them. I identify as a working class person and a working class artist and I feel this is evident in my work.

What art do you most identify with?

I have always been excited by artists that make work from unusual materials. I am constantly looking to find work that makes me wish I had made it. I enjoy a little jolt of envy; I think that is acceptable for artists as it spurs us on.

Is there something you couldn’t live without in your studio? What is your most essential tool?

I love to collect stuff. My studio is filled with objects and materials. I like to have things to pick up and look at. I couldn’t live without eBay, it is definitely an artists’ best friend in terms of sourcing materials to inspire and make art. I have recently bought some 1970s annuals, a white karate belt and some dolls eyes and I will use all of them in my practice. My most essential tool is my notebook, and I carry it everywhere. It is filled with great ideas, not so great ideas and borderline madness, all of which help to keep me sane.

What place do you think artists have in the political sphere?

I think artists have to be careful how they approach using politics in their work. If you don’t feel passionate about an issue then there is no point trying to pretend you care by making work about it. Art without intention is meaningless. Personally I like to use humour in political pieces of work. I want to attack those with power and too much wealth and I want to poke fun at them, belittle them. I want to make art that clearly shows what side I am on. As we enter late capitalism with the possible death of our planet, I think it’s too late not to take a side.

What do you feel the role of artists and photographers is in society?

I think artists need to gravitate towards the outer edges of society, to be able to observe what is going on and be moved, inspired, annoyed and disgusted enough to make art about it. As we see democracy breaking down and the terrible potential doom of climate change, I feel artists need to be mindful of what art they are making and the materials they are using to make it. Personally I think making art from the detritus of late capitalism is very exciting and also very relevant. I love that people make art at a time where there seems to be so little point in making it, to me this demonstrates bravery and a determination not to give in.

Are there upcoming exhibitions or projects in the works?

Currently I am preparing for three exhibitions in London – ‘Depictions of Living’ at The Art Pavilion, Mile End, ‘Housekeeping’ at The Jeannie Avent Gallery in East Dulwich and ‘Environmental Crisis –Art and Science Exhibition’ at The Gerald Moore Gallery. I have also been selected for an exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery which will be the culmination of the project –‘Discursive Spaces’ developed and curated by The Asylum Gallery. I will also be making a new body of work and plan to apply for some funding from The Arts Council. It is going to be a busy year!


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