The shared thoughts and artwork of Eli Helman.
Eli is a visiting artist from Framingham, MA. His work will be on exhibit at the Melrose Arts Festival on April 26-28, 2013.
Q. Can you explain the artistic style of Maximalist?
Maximalism is a term used in many forms of art that can be marked by, but not limited to, the juxtaposition of varying styles, a process oriented approach and an obsessive attention to detail. Leaving virtually no space untouched, I apply these characteristics of the Maximalist style into a boldly intricate yet distinctly raw form of expressionism that combines elements of folk art, comic humor and whimsical surrealism with a strong focus on pattern to create a satisfyingly full visual experience.
Q. What is your artistic process?
My process is fairly basic. Over time I have developed a particular language of recurring patterns that I mix and match within different contexts. Once I have chosen a subject for a drawing, I design the piece with the subject as the main focal point. I draw that first before filling in all the details. If I have set aside the space for a decorative border, that usually comes last. One way to think about it is to imagine starting with a simple line drawing and then “dressing it up” until there is no more spaces to fill.
Q. Your drawings are so incredibly detailed? How long does it normally take for you to complete a piece?
Each 8”x10” piece can take between 10-20 hours to complete. The largest pieces (18”x24”) can take well over 100 hours each. On average, this is about 15 minutes per square inch. Some drawings take longer due to more time spent planning and designing the layout while others that are more free-hand, pattern-based work are measured by the drawing time alone.
Q. Are your drawings, or components of your them, symbolic? And if so, how?
As my work has evolved I find myself incorporating more symbolic messages into more pieces. While some drawings are straightforward (i.e. birds in trees or a cabin in the woods), others take on layers of meaning that speak to different aspects of the subject. For example, my recent “Rope Bridge” drawing has a way of inviting the viewer in through its perspective view but, upon closer examination, the prospect of crossing over unsteady boards toward a mysterious and foreboding forest scene gives pause. This can be a universal message about life in terms of the allure of danger, temptation and the unknown. If I can convey an idea that works on both levels then I feel that it is a success.
Q. What influences you to interpret specific aspects of nature in a particular way – in shapes, patterns, and lines?
The limitations of the pen itself have been as much of an influence on my style of drawing as many other aspects of my approach. Since my early doodling days when trees were a major basis of many drawings, I have found that most things in nature are reduce-able to simple patterns. It doesn’t have to look exactly like leaves or branches or bark as long as it communicates the essence of those things. Lines and shapes drawn in black pen have very little impact on the eye without their relationship to the white space around them. Learning how to balance the light and dark in order to make the appropriate parts pop out is the key to an effective piece in black and white art. Patterns in nature lend themselves very well to this style because they are easily recognizable yet open to interpretation. That duality is inherent when working with only one color on a white background. So I hope to convey that while simultaneously tying in other dualities within nature – life and death, large and small, near and far, etc.
Q. How has your background in music influenced your drawings?
Having been an aspiring musician for years, I am heavily influenced by modern classical, avant-garde and experimental music. Listening to music with complex relationships often gives me visual ideas. Just as composers do in music, I think of my shapes and patterns as a language with a finite vocabulary. They each have their own personality and their own way of filling space. The challenge becomes how to reconstitute and reorganize the shapes and patterns in order to create a seamless flow within large contexts.
Q. As a self-taught artist, what has been your biggest challenge to overcome?
Without any formal training I do find myself sometimes unprepared to fully execute certain ideas. Most of my early work was two dimensional, for example. As I have grown into adding more depth, shading and meaning into my work I have been challenged by certain technical obstacles. For years I have debated whether or not to take any drawing classes to tie up some of these loose ends, but it hasn’t happened yet. So far I have been able to learn what is necessary to realize what I want to see. While this can be quite time consuming I feel it is worth maintaining the rawness of my outsider style than to polish it too much.
Q. Are you working on any new work? Can you share what you are exploring?
My most recent pieces are eclectic as usual, ranging from animal drawings (whale, elephant, birds) to objects (fireplace, typewriter, accordion) to sports themes (basketball hoop, baseball field, hockey player on a secluded mountain lake). I have been exploring some new patterns including wood grain, brick buildings and a starry night sky. I am constantly chipping away at an ever-growing list of subjects that I hope to bring to life one at a time. In addition, I have just self-published a book of drawings entitled LIFE IN FORMS: 50 Maximalist Ink Drawings.