GoLocalProv | Studio Visit with Artist Marjorie Hellman

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

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There are plenty of stories about artists who attended local colleges before moving on to other parts of the United States, but it is always exciting when an artist who trained locally comes to reside in Rhode Island. Marjorie Hellman studied at RISD and spent many years away before returning to the Ocean State. Today, she is based in Central Falls, where she creates some of the most well-crafted paintings in the region.

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Hellman’s first exposure to the state was as an undergraduate at RISD. She pursued additional studies at the renowned Cranbrook Academy of Art before going on to earn an MFA from Syracuse University. Hellman spent 25 years in Upstate New York and also lived in North Carolina before returning to Rhode Island in 2012. The last decade has been an active one, with Hellman producing wonderful geometric paintings in her local studio.

Asked what made her return to Rhode Island, Hellman says, “I fell in love with Providence and Rhode Island while I was a student at RISD, so when my son and his family decided to relocate here in 2012, I was thrilled to return to the place where I discovered my life path. So many changes over the years have made living in the Providence area an even richer experience. In particular, I continue to be inspired by the architecture and the special quality of reflected light that is present throughout the Ocean State.”

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While some artists opt for expressive and painterly surfaces, Hellman’s Hallmark is fine-tuned precision. Her practice has not always come easily. She suffered serious injuries in a car accident while living in North Carolina and has made adjustments to her work since.

Speaking of her process, Hellman says, “When I broke my neck 18 years ago, I had to completely rethink my physical approach to making work. I started back using colored pencils, a straight edge and Canson Mi Teintes toned paper. By the time I moved to Providence in 2012, I had regained enough upper body mobility to use paint, so I began making small paintings on birch panels, taping edges and applying multiple flat coats of Acrylic colors. Doing larger work has become possible, but I continue to use a straight edge, tape, plus a ship’s curve, and apply paint the same way. All my work begins with a line drawing, the reading of which is ambiguous. It is only with the development of color that I discover where it is headed.”

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One of the most exciting elements of Hellman’s more recent work is the way she breaks away from the tradition of the square or rectangular painting surface. Many of her newer paintings are executed on shaped panels that demand a second look.

Hellman explains this period of her work, saying, “As a system emerged in my drawing for Discovering a vocabulary of shapes and forms, I began to see compositions complete themselves without Solving to the rectangle. I found that aluminum composite material for large paintings and aluminum blanks for smaller pieces could be precisely cut using a router or laser cutter. What especially appeals to me about the shaped Perimeter is that my paintings take on an object quality, altering the notion of picture plane. I like the way they hold the wall.”

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Asked what she hopes viewers experience when looking at her work, Hellman gives a twofold answer, beginning, “A question I am sometimes asked is why I choose to make such a flat, non-painterly surface. Why not use a print technique, or better yet, create a vector on the computer and go from there? It is because by concealing evidence of my hand in highly labor-intensive work, I recall the practices that historically have been characterized and denigrated as “women’s work” of lesser value.”

She continues, “Secondly, although my work comes from personal ideas and observations about the world around me, I hope viewers will be made curious to look for unique connections in their own visual experiences.”

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Hellman is arguably one of the state’s great art technicians. As a testament to this, two of her large-scale paintings were recently acquired by Louis Vuitton. One is on view in a pop-up outside Chicago, while the second will be installed in their space at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Hellman’s work will soon be shown locally at Salve Regina University in Newport. She will be Featured in the group exhibition “Do Or Don’t Do It Yourself”, curated by Kristin Lamb. The show opens on February 23 at Salve’s Hamilton Gallery, and continues through March 30.

Hellman’s work can be traced to local roots, and today Rhode Island is lucky to call her a local. Explore Hellman’s work at her website www.marjoriehellman.com.

Michael Rose is a multi-talented fine art professional based in Southern New England. Since 2014 he has served as the gallery manager at the historic Providence Art Club, one of the nation’s oldest arts organizations. Through his current freelance work he advises collectors and artists, provides appraisal services, teaches, and completes curatorial projects.

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