Bruce Helander was one of the artists featured in the Cultural Council’s “Reimagine” exhibition at The Satellite – the Council’s pop-up gallery in Rosemary Square (formerly CityPlace). In advance of his corresponding lecture at The Satellite on March 14, 2019, we asked Bruce a few questions about his process, his inspirations, and what’s next for his career.
Can you tell us, briefly, about your background and your career as an artist?
Bruce Helander (BH): I was born in Great Bend, Kansas and encouraged by a talented mother who had attended Rhode Island School of Design. I also was accepted to the undergraduate program at RISD and pursued a B.F.A. and M.F.A, and later became the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of the college. I pursued an artistic career with a dream of becoming an illustrator for The New Yorker magazine, and while that was a longshot, it eventually became a reality. I later studied creative writing at Yale University and frequently contribute to The Huffington Post, ARTnews, and Sculpture magazine, as well as writing essays for scholarly catalogs. I have curated more than 40 museum exhibitions. My work is in over 50 permanent collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum. In 1998, the Norton Museum presented a one-man show of my work and acquired 26 original collages. Kenworth Moffett, former director of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston observed in Gold Coast magazine, “If there was a Pulitzer Prize for collage Helander would surely win it” and Tom Wolfe observed “Helander out-collages Braque!”
Give us a short description of your process: from the first idea/inspiration to the final touch.
BH: As a collage artist who often turns my paper works into compositions on canvas, I start by shifting through boxes of sorted paper that’s stored in categories. The end result depends on whether the artwork is a commission with a clear subject and message, or if I begin without a defined idea and let the paper speaks to me as it matures into a final configuration. In all my work I appropriate images from the printed page and adaptively re-use these fragments into a refined composition on board or canvas. I also admire vintage pattern designs and my latest series utilizes printed fabric with embellishments.
What can attendees expect from your upcoming Elvis in Palm Beach lecture? And, why Elvis?
BH: Attendees should expect to have good time learning about my art. I recently lectured on my work and my two recent books on Chihuly and Hunt Slonem numerous times over the last year, including at the Society of the Four Arts and the NSU Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale. Attendees also will discover some secret details in my paintings and collages. The title “Elvis in Palm Beach” was inspired by a newspaper clipping announcing a concert in West Palm Beach with tickets starting at $9.50. I was an Elvis impersonator briefly in high school and was mesmerized by his iconic style, which was appropriated by Andy Warhol in his celebrated painting titled “Triple Elvis,” which I also appropriated in its original size and silver tonalities reflecting the “Silver Screen” image, although I replaced Elvis’ face with a more handsome profile.
Who are some of your artistic influences (dead or alive)?
BH: My influences include artists from abstract expressionism, particularly Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, as well as Richard Prince and Dana Schutz.
When you’re hunting for items to use in your collage and assemblage work, what do you look for?
BH: I learned about hunting for objects in flea markets and secondhand stores from Dale Chihuly while I was in graduate school. Dale always suggested using your nose and intuition when you suspected something great to discover. I am also on the lookout for vintage magazines and book, maps, posters, cloth material. When I’m done for the day I go back and spread my goodies out on the floor for careful examination like a kid just back from trick or treating. Some items that are deemed appropriate raw material for ongoing projects immediately go onto the large studio table.
What’s next for you and your work?
BH: I’m finishing an illustration for a new Sherlock Holmes book, and curating 5 museum and gallery exhibitions between now and March. I have a new scarf and necktie line coming to a museum bookstore near you! Working every day on an ambitious show at the Fritz Gallery in Palm Beach in early February. Am writing an essay for Hubert Phipps’ upcoming exhibit at the Coral Springs Museum of Art and am writing articles for One Art Nation and Art Hive magazine. Working on a career survey exhibition of over 70 works for the Coral Springs Museum of Art in 2020.
Anything else you’d like to communicate to the Cultural Council, its members or other artists in the community?
BH: A word of advice to the Cultural Council community and other artists is recognize your true calling and just jump-start that with fierce ambition and confidence and never give up. Make a point of viewing as many exhibitions as you can and try to relate what you see to your own circumstance.