Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Times in an Artist's Life: Z. Vanessa Helder

 Z. Vanessa Helder (1904-1968) was another artist, who was well-known during a certain era, and then largely forgotten as popular art styles changed.


Helder's medium was water colors. She didn't thin her paints to a translucent or dripping effect, commonly used with water colors. Instead, she used water color in a bold manner associated with the "Precisionist" manner. 


In that technique, (also used by Edward Hopper), houses, landscapes and industrial buildings are rendered in a certain combination of realism combined with isolation and a dream-like or surrealistic quality. In fact, Helder commented that these are a combination of what she sees and dreams from her childhood.(She started painting at age 9!)


Fame came to her pre-WW2 when she was the most well-known artist from the Pacific NW. She had exhibits all the way to NYC. She was also commissioned as an artist for the WPA. It brought her to paintings of the building the USA government was sponsoring. One of her most famous painted series being of the Grand Coulee Dam.

What happened to her place in the great 20th century artist? Post-WW2, the art style in vogue shifted to Abstract Expressionism. Helder lost gallery exposure in the East and at the same time in the NW, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and Guy Anderson became the "Northwest School."


It is only speculation on my part, but I think if she'd have lived as long as Georgia O'Keeffe, who died in 1986 and is associated with New Mexico, she might have lived to see her artistic popularity revived as a top Pacific NW artist. She was considered that good.



If these images create an interest in Helder, there's a book titled: "Austere Beauty:The Art of Z. Vanessa Helder" by Margaret Bullock and David F. Martin.

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