British painter Helen Booth, with a career spanning thirty years, receives two prestigious awards from New York; The Pollock Krasner Foundation and one of the twelve international awards for abstract painting from the Adolf and Esther Gottlieb Foundation. Hattie Morrison explores the life and work of an artist whose stark, abstract visions draw on a personal obsession with some of life’s biggest questions.
Helen Booth is a contemporary visual artist living and working in Llandysul, south west Wales. Her recent work has been made possible by the generous support of both the Jackson Pollock & Lee Krasner Foundation and the Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation in America, whose recognition and support this year has been vital in her development as a painter. In 2018, Booth endured a total abdominal hysterectomy which lead to the obsession of Life and Death within her practice. Her visit to Iceland earlier this year has also been fundamental to her painting. Witnessing the harsh, brutal and monochrome landscapes of Iceland felt like a rebirth for Booth. “At moments, I stood in the landscape snow-blind, yet these moments gave me clarity of purpose. I sketched at the times the blizzards cleared, the miraculous imagery gave me a renewed vigour and the way to develop my painting”.
Her recent abstract paintings explore the limitless variations of the single dot and how the individual marks, when placed side by side, create a dialogue. Often the dots follow disjointed lines or they crowd together in amorphous blocks. Sometimes they are destroyed by gravity with dripped paints. The works explore both an impulsive and repetitive way of mark making that is both gestural and meditative. Straight and dynamic lines often appear alongside the more gossamer transient dots in the paintings, this juxtaposition of imposed structure and the loosely applied layers is an emotional response to the process of painting. Her restrained palette creates work that focuses on the mark without the distraction of colour.
Booth’s paintings try to balance action and inaction. Oil allows her to do this; each layer forcing a pause in the works construction. This way of working, the combination of the interactions between the artist, the hands-off exchanges of the paint on a surface, the force of gravity and the element of chance are fundamental to her ideas. The internal alchemy, the human condition, of being and not being, of life and death are what she strives to capture within the work.
Agnes Martin stated succinctly in her Beauty is a Mystery of Life lecture in 1989 that “it is commonly thought that everything that is, can be put into words. But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words. We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them till they are represented in art work”. Booth’s paintings with their minimalist stripped back aesthetic, offers a contemplative visual experience that taps into this emotional connection.
She will be returning to Iceland in March 2020 after being awarded the Artist in Residence opportunity at the Hafnarborg Arts & Culture Centre. There she will have an artist studio space for the whole month to further explore and develop her practise in response to the Icelandic landscape.
After thirty years of painting, Booth is producing work that is securely and confidently her own, considering simultaneously hyper-personal and universal themes such as Life, Death, Memory and Love. Like the surface of her paintings and the landscape of Iceland, with their reductionist aesthetics, Booth has distilled her ideas to produce a sophisticated and moving body of work.