Getting to know Helen Shulman layer by layer

The abstract works of Helen Shulman are constructed upon an architecture of inter-woven layers that create beautiful depths and nuances that invite the viewer to explore the world within the image.  Each has its own personality, as complex and diverse as the individuals who look upon them. With pieces that are lively, full of energy, immersing you into its universe immediately with intense, vivid, bright color and intriguing texture to quiet and more subdued works with elegant pathways that gently lead you further and further into the piece like a late night conversation with an old friend. They are ever changing and evolving, as we do, and like the artist that creates them does. Edgewater recently sat down with Shulman to learn more about her and her path that led her to where she is today. 
Q. You’ve explored careers in science and earned several degrees in that area before devoting yourself to your art, do you wish you’d gone to art school in the beginning and how do you think your life may have been different if you had?
A.  Yes, I often do and I spin all these wonderful tales about how it might have been. What if I’d not felt I had to prove to my father that a girl could do high-level math. Then I’d have skipped the part about getting my Masters in math and teaching math. And what if I didn’t feel the need to understand better what makes people tick? Then I might have missed getting my MSW and having a career in mental health and I wouldn’t have had my psychotherapy practice. I probably wouldn’t have married and had such a happy relationship. And so, the fantasy of continuing to occupy the loft in New York, which I once occupied, the vision of painting more and better, of being better known, of pushing my art further and further, while still very enticing is also challenged by the realization that all the early stages have been invaluable. Just like my paintings are built layer-by-layer and just like their layers go off in directions that seem to have nothing to do with the final surface so, it seems my life has followed the same process.
Q: Often others see people quite differently than they see themselves. What do your friends see in you that you may not see in yourself?
A: Interesting ? You’re right. There are some who tell me how much they admire traits they think they see in me. Two of them come to mind. One is that I’m disciplined and the other talented. The notion of “discipline” is based in my studio practice and in my going to the gym regularly. But these are the things I want to do! I go into the studio every morning. I retrieve my palette from the freezer where I’ve stashed it the night before (the oil paint is kept in excellent condition this way), I clean my work table if I’ve been too tired to do it the night before. I look at the pieces in progress searching for redeeming features that will show me the way to begin the next stages of development. Yes, the day may well be filed with frustration and discouragement. It may be a day when I see myself in a very negative way, yet it is still the place I want to be. What takes discipline is not going to the studio, cleaning the house, paying the bills, going grocery shopping… I agree I’ve been given a “gift,” but it is the urge to do what I do despite the setbacks. I have learned the rest. Now I do look at the world around me differently than I did before becoming an artist, but I learned how to do that just as I learned how to translate some ideas and feelings into the concrete form of paintings. Curiously, all of the people who tell me I’m talented have exactly the same attribute they’re seeing in me. I see them sticking with developing their projects, rearing their children, writing their memoirs, playing golf, volunteering as coaches, tutors, hospice workers, no matter how hard any day or period may be.
Q: In some of your artist statements, you talk about valuing quiet and loving to be alone. Could you tell me more about that and if that time is key to your creative process?
A: I grew up in a small town in Ohio in the midst of Amish country, though we were not Amish. Ours was the only house on the road that had electricity and I can remember the day it was installed. My folks had purchased an old farmhouse built in the early 1800’s. To me it was magical. The farmers around us used teams of horses in the fields. They owned no modern equipment. There were few man made sounds. A car passing on our road was such a rare event my brother and I would stop to look at it. Horses and buggies were common. My parents put a high value on imagination. Favorite playthings were formed from every day objects. My dad made up fanciful and wonderful bedtime stories. My mom sewed all my clothes and made the exact replicas for my only doll. When I was an adolescent I couldn’t wait to break free of the very things that had nurtured me. After college I headed to California and then to New York City where I sought noise, external stimulation and a certain amount of chaos, but the love of silence and solitude was deeply planted and eventually drew me back to it. And yes, I think the alone time I carve out for myself is essential to my health, my happiness, and my art.
Helen Shulman currently resides part of the year in Quechee, Vt., and the other half in Naples, Fla., working diligently in her studio in either location. Her work is in several private and public collections along the east coast. Edgewater Gallery has a full range of Shulman’s work. 

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