Contemporary eye on the still life
This story was featured in the February 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
For Sarah van der Helm, creating still-life paintings is a rewarding journey that continues to evolve. She admits that the genre has turned out to be a bit more challenging than she first imagined. There are often crucial design problems that need to be solved in order for a painting to be a success, she says. But her interior-design studies at Oklahoma State University in the early 1990s have provided van der Helm with a keen design sense that is evident in her contemporary still lifes. Since she also showed a talent for drawing in college, she eventually concentrated on fine art, earning her BFA with an emphasis on printmaking.
In 1997 her husband’s job transferred the couple to Luxembourg, and the experience became a major influence on her art. Van der Helm had the opportunity to visit the great museums of Europe, where she fell in love with both prints and oil paintings by well-known masters such as Käthe Kollwitz, Edvard Munch, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. While in Luxembourg she also joined a printmaking atelier and had a solo exhibition consisting mostly of her woodcuts, lithographs, and a few figurative works.
Today van der Helm makes her home in Denver, CO, where still lifes in oils have captured collectors’ eyes and her artistic soul. The painter brings a modern look to the traditional genre, whether she’s envisioning a minimalist tableaux or a painting in her ongoing series like TULIP IN BROWN PAPER SACK.
The idea for the flower-in-a-bag series first stemmed from the idea of creating a frame around a flower, van der Helm explains. At first she painted bamboo around an orchid. But the idea eventually turned into a depiction of flowers surrounded by brown paper. “With the flowers in the paper series I am trying to convey a feeling of power. By restraining the paper with twine and having the flower force its way out, I want to show how our inner beauty and strength can overcome obstacles,” van der Helm says. “I would like viewers of my work to enjoy not only the realism but also the feeling or mood in my paintings.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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