Helen Pfeffer makes art that captivates her curiosity, that pushes the envelope, and that gives a new translation to common subjects—such as a line, a branch, a tree, or the landscape. Her career has been marked with many solo and group exhibitions throughout New Mexico, Texas, New York, Colorado, and Louisiana. Pfeffer’s Branch Series was recently featured in a group exhibition, Art on the Edge, at the New Mexico Museum of Art, curated by Elizabeth Sussman of the Whitney Museum in New York. Her work is also featured in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute in San Antonio, and the Dartmouth College Museum in Hanover, New Hampshire.
My quest for minimalism began with my journey from New York to Santa Fe from the frenetic crowds and constant noise to peaceful, quiet surroundings. Minimalism is a shift in thinking. The idea is to have less info and clutter, not only in one’s space, but also in one’s head. Fewer people involved in my life taking time away from my work, and finding more time to discover myself in a place of silence where I selectively choose whatever I decide to think about or produce—a place where I can clarify my vision and embrace the empty canvas or paper. My colors are mostly shades of white or shades from grey to black. This limited palette provides a peaceful canvas, leaving the viewer in a quiet state of mind.
THE MULTI-LAYERING PROCESS
I express my feelings about a subject using a multi-layering process that combines paint, fabric, paper, and found objects. The manipulation of many types of paint creates various tones of different colors, allowing me to build up unlimited layers of color in the making of a piece. Areas of color become infused with light as glaze and visual information is conveyed, resulting in an abstract interplay of those colors. As the work progresses, I begin to see the depth beneath the surface. The result should look as if the painting had been executed effortlessly, which, of course, is never the case.
Visual poetry is a mood—the challenge of conveying an overall feeling that makes the viewer or reader hear a beat, like in an étude or a sonata, something that is personal. Being an artist and a poet, I feel the connection between these two forms of art. In my paintings, a mood can be found in the direction of a line and the excitement that it can create according to the direction, weight, and speed of the action with which it is executed, as well as the intensity of light and the feel of a shape. Both art forms are visions of personal expression, one using paint, pasted paper, and fabrics while the other uses words to relate a vision.
My state of quietude begins with a minimal space in which to live and work—a place that is peaceful and quiet in order to have a greater understanding of myself. Being alone in the studio—isolated from the outside world—is something that I find necessary. I can quietly look at my paintings and critique them, or just enjoy them. I write or reread my poems, sometimes reading them aloud. This is a discipline that requires two things—solitude and showing up.
It is not what I see, but how I see it. I learned to express ideas and feelings through movement by being aware and sensitive to every turn of my body through the study of music and impromptu dance. When I look out my studio window at my surroundings, or when I walk in nature, I not only see the leaves and branches on the trees moving in the wind—I actually feel their motion. The way that I identify with the landscape is personal and unpredictable, and this is reflected in my paintings. By identifying with my surroundings, I paint in an abstract manner, which causes the viewer to take notice of something they might see every day, and then suddenly they respond differently to that particular thing. I live and work in a minimal space as I do not work well in clutter. Less is more. Bottom line: I need breathing space in order to create.
(Photo by Dana Waldon)