Chichester: Helena’s French expressionism

Helena McGrath is promising art at its most unpretentious in her new exhibition at Chichester’s Oxmarket Centre of Arts from April 14-26.

Her work is a bright and dynamic collection mainly in acrylic with a few watercolours on large-scale canvas.



The exhibition is simply called Expressionism, and for French-born Helena, expressionism is all about freedom: “My work requires neither planning nor conscious thought. It is more intuitive and emotional than intellectual. When I paint, there is no technique, no great planning I try to apply. It is just instinctive. Some people with their art are always saying they have to think, they have to recollect. Not me. I just do it. I don’t think. I just do!

“The only thing I would say is it is a question of feeling, a question of mood. It is very impromptu. I don’t think ‘This is what I am going to do!’ I can be in the middle of doing something like baking, and then suddenly my husband will see me out in the garden with my canvases. I can paint only in the summer time. In the winter, I do other activities. I have to do my art outdoors.

“That’s the freedom aspect. But it is also the light, and it is also the mood. Somehow, I am inspired by the season. The only thing that is not impromptu is the colour. I think very much about the colours I use. The colours are the colours I love. My palette is very limited. I try to be adventurous. I try to get out of my comfort zone, but I always come back to red and blue and white.

“I was very much influenced by Jackson Pollock ever since I was a little girl. People always try to interpret expressionism, but there is no interpretation. It is a question of feeling. There is a painting, and it is just what you see. Two different people will see it differently. It’s about the colour. It is about the balance. I think that is all that is premeditated.”

Helena’s first solo exhibition at the Oxmarket was in 2009. In between times, she went back to live in France before returning to England last November.

“We have a home in France, and my (English) husband loves France. He said ‘Why don’t we try to live there?’ but I missed England so much I had to come back.

“There is something very English about me, I think! I love the language. I love the people, and I feel very comfortable here. France is a fantastic country. It’s very rich culturally, but I don’t get on very well with French people, I have to say! I don’t think I am typically French. And I just love Chichester. God, what a beautiful city! It has got everything.

“There is just something about England and the English that attracts me. English people know how to hold back, and I find that very attractive. They are not in your face like Latin people who try to swallow you up. Knowing how to hold back is very important.”

Also she loves English receptivity to art: “In France, you have got Paris, the big city where people are more open, but in France people are very traditionalist about art. But I think England is the capital of modern art.

“In England, every thing is possible. What I love about the English is they are very open-minded. They don’t always have to accept everything, but they understand about being different. In France, it is not the same.”