Letters from Helen How did an American-Russian expat journalist become an artist? Very quickly, as she explains to The American
elen Kirwan-Taylor creates word sculptures from all manner of materials. You can see some of them at London’s Themes and Variations Design Gallery until June 23rd (featured in our Arts pages last month). But how did she move from using words to creating them? I’ve been making things for ages, and I have clients who commission things, but this is the first time I’ve displayed them in front of people in galleries, it’s a whole different thing. I’m like a speed artist, doing what art students do over ten years in three months. Even photography, because this started out as a photographic project. I was just making these fun prints, that were just wacky and big and mad. I made one word sculpture, Xmas and used it as my Christmas card. It was my first three-dimensional word, but I
photographed it properly using an art photographer that I’d worked with. A retailer from the huge American company Fab loved it and said he wanted eight. I thought I’d make a pop-up show, before they went on sale. I write about design and art, so I know lots of people, so I went to my favorite gallery where I had bought things with the idea that we would just do a pop-up show. The gallery owner said she wouldn’t show anything that she doesn’t sell, but she loved them and wanted to sell them. I came out of there spinning! One of the words I want to work on is ‘Synchronicity’ because every time I do one thing, something happens on my journey that sends me into a completely different direction. I write about psychology and do creative consultancy, and I’ve looked at how creativity works
from an academic point of view. The point is, it’s random. If you ask someone ‘how did you do that?,’ often they don’t know. Woody Allen goes into his shower seven times a day apparently, he gets another idea and he comes out. They call it The Bathtub Effect. This whole thing has been my Bathtub Effect. We went to the builders merchants today to get a table, and I had an idea. I said ‘I know, we’re going to have a light bulb hanging in a frame!’ Of course there was an electrician right there who said ‘You’re putting a light bulb on a letter?’, I explained, and told me how I should do it. Nothing is random, even the dog keeps inspiring me.
I trained in art before becoming a journalist, then got back into art whilst recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME. It was a very long-winded process. I went to Sarah Lawrence College, which is virtually like going to art school, and I was always interested in Art History. When I got sick with ME it dragged on. Finally I met a psychiatrist who said I had to be hospitalised. They put me in the Charter Nightingale (now the Capio Nightingale, in Marylebone, London). All the others there were really famous people who’d had nervous breakdowns - these massive celebri-
The American has been published for Americans in Britain since 1976.