WV Artist on Display: Venturing into the Absurd, Surreal, & Abstract

Meet Matthew Helmick, a Bridgeport, WV based artist who creates oil paintings that can venture into the absurd, surreal, and abstract reaches of the human experience. Largely self-taught, Helmick says his paintings reflect elements of isolation and insulation and disturbing subject matter juxtaposed with comforting balance and harmony. He participated in the Appalachian Conscious Collective’s “An Evening of Art” in Clarksburg, WV in April 2019. His inspirations include artists Sergio Gomez, Paulina Archambault, James Jean, and Mark Ryden to name a few.

Growing up in Elkins, Helmick always enjoyed art classes and took an introduction to art history course at PC&TC in Fairmont. It would be years before he resumed painting in 2019. He tells us, “It’s really the first time in my adult life that I feel like I am creating something solely for the sake of creating. It’s like a never-ending walk in the wilderness.” Learn more about our WV artist on display with our Q&A:

How do you describe your palette?

I primarily work with oils and alkyd mediums. Lately I’ve been mixing my own medium, derived from a walnut alkyd medium. I utilize two techniques for distinctly different results… I prefer layering for a more controlled, precise appearance, but if I’m conveying emotion, especially fear or anxiety, I prefer alla prima. The latter is great for immediacy, capturing an energy before it dissipates. It is inherently more raw, more like a candid snapshot than a posed portrait.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Realizing and accepting that my life’s journey is not solely by my own design. I think that we should be open to a fluid idea of our dreams. There are lots of opportunities that might be passed up if we are too focused on a singular vision. We could easily delay or even opt-out of happiness and the feeling of purpose if we can’t see our paths for what they are.

What obstacles do you need to overcome to find your creative space/muse?

My biggest obstacle is probably overthinking. Especially in the conceptual phase. Once I have a concept, it usually proceeds fairly easily. Sometimes I have very vague concepts for quite awhile, and that can be rough, but I always have more than one project in progress, so if something starts getting stale or is just not going “right”, I can switch to something else.

How do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in many places, especially in color itself. I spend quite a bit of time studying other people’s art, not so much for subject matter inspiration, but admiring their color choices. Color is such a source of inspiration that I find myself mixing hues just for the sake of finding something new and workable… I’ve stumbled upon a few colors that literally directed entire compositions. I think, “Hmm, this would be the perfect color for… [fill in the blank]…” and I go from there.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Embrace your personal style and never try to emulate anyone else; it is probably a good thing if your art doesn’t look like anyone else’s art. Maybe most importantly, don’t try to explain your work. Everyone has ideas about what they see, artists should gift the viewer the freedom to make their own minds up and to arrive at a personal meaning. I strongly believe in this, to the point that I don’t even name my work. My art is called whatever you, as the viewer, want to call it; it means whatever you think it means.

What is your favorite piece(s) you’ve made and why?

I don’t really have a favorite, but I liked the way Untitled No 21 (gas mask) turned out. It was my first alla prima piece, and I really like how the colors add irony to the image. Fiesta colors expressing a stark and serious image.

How can our readers purchase your pieces?

I am planning to participate in more art shows and events around the state when the pandemic is under control. Perhaps Lewisburg will see my pieces in person next season! I plan to offer prints as well as original pieces in the future.

What is the best way for our readers to contact you?

I have an Instagram account which I keep current with works-in-progress, and images of my framed pieces. I can be reached there at m_helmick_art .

Hashtag Lewisburg City Paper. September 2020.

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