Playing with fire
Helen Bells (Mountford) has been pushing the envelope in her career and personal life for many years. The self-proclaimed “provocateur” recently reinvented herself as an artist and hasn’t looked back. We chatted with Helen about the inspiration for her new exhibition in the Big Little Gallery, Where We Live.
Q: Many people would know you from your days as a vintage clothing retailer at Very Fashion, can you tell us how that career path led to art making?
Helen: I closed Very Fashion in 2012 before I lost any money. It was a very hard decision to make as I actually felt as though I was letting the town down. Fast forward to 2019, and I was turning 60, I had a rotten thing happen to me earlier in the same year and I could feel myself sinking into the rabbit hole. A friend said “here’s a canvas and here’s some paint and a brush, why don’t you enter Artstreet?”. So I did. And I kept painting. Every day. Gifted paints and canvases there was no reason not to do it. September of the same year I held my first exhibition at Platform Gallery in Katoomba.
Q: How long have you called Katoomba/the Blue Mountains home and how does living here influence your work?
Helen: I moved here in 1989, so 31 years and counting. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. The Mountains influences my work in that it offers the peace and conditions that allow me to paint.
Q: What was your personal experience of the bushfires of early 2020?
Helen: Like a lot of people I didn’t think it affected me but it did. I remember saying to someone ‘why can’t we just get back what we know’. It was a heavy feeling.
Q: Can you tell us about Where We Live?
Helen: It’s based on the changing environment that we have here in the Blue Mountains. It references the affect of fire and drought on our homes and the natural environment – the heat, the flying debris and the impact on our streets and the bush. The banksia seeds pods and bits collected are from a person’s yard where a disease struck and they lost 15 or more advanced trees.
Q: Here’s a big one – how important is art in the 21st century?
Hmmm. Very. More than ever it is what we all need to do. Look at it, feel it, see it. Buy it. I’m very small fish but whenever I sell a piece I buy another artist’s work.
Helen’s exhibition runs until November 28. The work is for sale for $450, enquiries directly to Helen on 0408 466 953.
If you’re a local artist who wants to exhibit in our gallery space contact Jacq at the Co-op via firstname.lastname@example.org