Since we can’t hang out with our Harwood Studio Artists in person right now, we asked them to share a little bit about their art practice and how things have changed for them since the stay-at-home order went into effect. Here is our interview with Helen Atkins. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Helen Atkins, Nipple Dish 1, stoneware clay, 2018
How is your life, your practice, and your art the same or different now than it was at the beginning of the year?
HA: It’s kind of funny, in the Winter I was longing for a break. I usually work multiple community art jobs while balancing work in my studio. I wanted the whole world to slow down so that I could focus on my own work. Now that it is here, I feel like my brain is working at half capacity, and that the creativity doesn’t flow like it used to. It seems like everyone is in shock, and that is having an effect on our “productivity,” which leads to all of this feeling of guilt and self-loathing. So even though I have time, I feel like there is another hurdle to overcome, a battle with myself.
How has Covid-19 challenged or changed your art practice?
HA: As a figurative artist, I’m interested in physicality and culture, and how the relationship between the two impacts our sense of self. I am working towards a solo exhibition I am supposed to have in October. “Soft”is a sculptural series that honors the body. I am taking real photos of peoples bellies and turning them into sculptures. In some ways, the work feels even more relevant than ever as people spend more time with themselves. But also is it relevant? The big cultural thing is Covid-19 and it feels like it overshadows any other issue. My work is often a form of social criticism so I am really spending time thinking about our culture, how it has shifted and what this new landscape means for me and everyone else.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
HA: I am inspired by people and the uniqueness yet universality of experience. I love the human form, I think it is one of the most beautiful things.
What is your process when starting a new project or piece?
HA: I work with deadlines in mind. Opportunities and jobs motivate me. So I usually start with a test or prototype of an idea, then seek proposals and opportunities.
What are you working on right now?
HA: I am working towards my solo show at the Harwood in October, but also working with OFFCenter Arts and the Harwood Art Center on community programming. I have been deeply involved with community arts and that has all changed drastically.
Like most artists, I am also thinking to the future, applying for residencies, shows and grants. This time has been wonderful for that. But everything is so in the air, it’s really hard to look to the future.
What are you currently interested in?
HA: Sooo many things, but right now I am interested in the relationships we have with our bodies and how culture influences that relationship. I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about Fat activism, now more popularly termed “body positivity.” I am really interested in the notions of “good” and “bad” bodies, and how wellness culture feels very close to religious piety. How do we internalize these cultural notions as we live day to day in our physical forms?
Do you have another job in addition to making art? How does it inform your art practice?
HA: Yes, I am the Programs Manager at OFFCenter Arts, and I work for Harwood as a Lead Artist for the Arts and Social Justice apprenticeship program.
This has really reinforced my human focused practice. Art, community and social justice have been synonymous since the beginning of my career. I think it has really influenced the work I do alone in my studio and of course the work I do with others. I feel a real sense of duty, as an artist, to share human stories.
Was there a moment or a decision you made in your career that you feel was a personal success?
HA: Success… I’m not sure. There are a bunch of things I have felt so grateful to be a part of or to accomplish. But really the best decision goes back to high school when I decided I would be an artist.
What memorable response(s) have you had to your work?
HA: It’s always really nice to sell a piece. But even more exciting is meeting young women, like me, who can connect to my pieces. People who are not really in the business of buying and collecting art, it’s special when they stop and sit with a piece.
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
HA: Vulnerability. I feel like I am expressing intimate truths to see if they are the same for other people. Art seems like a safe way to be soul baring, like vulnerability at a safe distance.
What is your dream project? If there were no restrictions on time or money, what would you create?
HA: HUGE public artworks that are representative of human bodies. A LARGE scale human garden with bodies in every shape. Not only would I make these sculptures, but I’d love to get other artists in the mix who maybe haven’t had big opportunities or aren’t that established. Give them the resources to think big and see what they accomplish.
And of course the figures would be nude.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Is there an artwork of yours that you will always keep?
HA: Nah get it outta here! I am all about sharing my work and getting it into the world and out of my hands.
What excites and / or delights you in your art practice right now?
HA: That I am allowing myself to make mistakes and not rely on my first idea. I finally have the time to really mull over shit, get it to a place where I am excited about it. The last 4 years have felt like none-stop movement from one project to the next. Don’t get me wrong it’s been so great. But there has been this feeling that I am not giving my best. I think that comes from not really having the time to allow the creative process to cycle naturally. Being wrong is part of the process, but if you’re working with tight schedules and limited time, being wrong has to wait.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Please send me photos of your bellies! You can DM on Facebook or Instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am turning these photos into sculptures for my show in October.
How can people learn more, support, and or purchase your work?
HA: You can follow me on Instagram @helenjuliet_art and visit my newly updated website!
About Helen Atkins:
Helen Juliet Atkins is an interdisciplinary artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received a BA in Studio Arts from the University of New Mexico in 2016. Her studio practice, public works, and community engaged projects often focus on the intersection of art and social justice. Atkins is a 2018 recipient of the inaugural Women in Creativity “Shine” Award, which honors creative women and their community impact. She is a co-founder of Plates Against Patriarchy, a visual arts and storytelling project that challenges patriarchal systems of power. Atkins currently serves on the Albuquerque Museum Board of Trustees. While working on collaborative projects, she is also building a body of work that explores notions of experience and identity; this work has been shown in galleries nationally and internationally.
Helen Atkins, Pupa, latex paint, graphite, and gold leaf on canvas, 2019
Helen Atkins, Shroud, oil, latex paint, and gold leaf on found object mirror, 2019
Helen Atkins, Fingers & Folds, Oil on found object mirror, 2017
Plates Against Patriarchy, Assimilate? You Assimilate!, underglaze on porcelain plate 2019