How artist Helena Ray captures the female form through paint.
Tell us about the art you make, and what draws you to the female form?
I paint women in free flowing realness, celebrating the ever changing female body in its all-encompassing natural form, hair and all. When I paint I focus on the pleasure I get from the act of painting, using bold colours and fluid linework that capture the female form with all her lumps and bumps. As water may flow over stones and make its way around bends, the fluid shapes of the female body give me freedom to explore in a joyful playfulness when drawing.
What kind of role did creativity play in your childhood?
I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by lush New Zealand bush overlooking Karekare beach. My house was cluttered in art, paintings, tapestries and stained glass. My mother, who was a weaver at the time, had an eye for the interesting and always encouraged me to create, setting up areas to draw or giving me free reign in her sewing workshop. I always remember the magazine pages of Matisse’s nude ladies blue tacked to the bathroom walls and thinking how they reminded me of my mum in her colourful house. I think these images have stuck with me.
How do ideas for your art come to you?
Ideas usually come to me as I doodle or play with marks on the paper. Or I might think of the people, places and activities that make me feel happy and then I want to draw a woman in that space, enjoying life. At this point in my creative journey I’m really interested in mark making and the relationship between colours and patterns; I find that playing with mixing colours or new marks can also lead to new ideas.
Can you describe the space you work from?
I live in the most lovely flat in Grey Lynn, Auckland. Living with others I still struggle with finding a space for creativity and you may find me sprawled out in the lounge for stints of creativity. I find I am most creative when no one’s home and I’m an hour into a session of drawing and painting, getting lost in some music (Khruangbin’s a fave). It can be a challenge getting into that magical place of creative flow and living with people who appreciate not interrupting me at that point is key to keep the creativity flowing.
Can you share the meaning behind your piece ‘Mermaids’?
I reconnected with surfing four years ago and through this journey I have discovered so much about myself and the ocean, which I use to be so scared of. I also connected with the most wonderful bunch of water women. Mermaids is a playful take on the comradery I have experienced with women in the water and the way we hold each other up, whether that’s calling each other into an epic wave or having a fat laugh after a silly bail. I am so grateful for my fellow mermaids for their support and friendship.
A lot of your pieces celebrate the naked body and our body hair. Why is it important to celebrate the beauty of our natural forms?
I grew up hating my curly hair and feeling embarrassed by my body hair and shape, and while I’m still on the journey to self-acceptance, I feel a responsibility when I’m drawing women to not leave anything out, this is what we look like, this is normal... and isn’t it wonderful! I hope through my drawings I can reiterate the beauty of our natural bodies, and that by showing body hair and bodies of all shapes in a positive way my art can offer affirmation to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.
Who is an important woman in your life, and what’s the biggest thing she’s taught you?
I am blessed with so many unique women in my life that give me new understandings. My mother taught me that creativity always needs its own space and that you cannot create in mess. Keep the paints out, tools at hand and your workstation tidy, so that when inspiration strikes, your space is ready to receive you.
Find Helena: @helenarayartist
Want to keep reading? Find the full story, Helena Ray in Womenclan: Journal One available here.