Skilled in producing extraordinarily realistic portraits, after ten years of working only in oils, Helena has made a transition to working in the more direct medium of pastel and it is through this medium she attains her highly finished, detailed, expressions of people.
South African artist, Helena Hugo has been a full time artist since graduating from the University of Pretoria in 1996, where she majored in painting.
She has exhibited her work throughout South Africa, as well as in London, the Netherlands and France.
Her art has been bought by corporate collectors such as Standard Chartered Bank, London; The University of Johannesburg; The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Ukwazi Mining Industry Consultants, as well as private collectors around the world.
Helena has been nominated for several awards and was one of four participants in a month-long residency at the Cité International des Arts in Paris in July 2013.
She recently took first prize in the first pastel painting contest, organized by Collection Beaux-Arts Réaliste et Impressionniste, Montréal, Canada.
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<< The muscular type: the most generous friend I
Pastel on board
38cm x 38cm
The muscular type: the most generous friend I & II formed part of a series made for an exhibition entitled ‘Surface’.
Here I explored the old method of categorising people and judging their characters solely by their outward facial features called physiognomy – a very popular pseudo-science during the 19th century, but in fact, an idea possibly as old as the 5th century BC.
It may immediately strike us as unfair and unscientific, and has in fact been dismissed as such by contemporary society, but in what measure do we still unconsciously assess our fellow man’s character by his outer appearance?
Yet another question came to mind: How does our treatment of people consequently affect them to almost ‘become’ that which we expect of them?
The titles of the drawings were derived from an early 20th century self help book called How to analyse people on sight in which five character types are described, amongst others – the muscular type. The subject for these two drawings was a homeless woman.
The jobseeker II >>
Pastel on board
50cm x 25cm
By treating the portraits of people who, in South Africa, are sometimes over looked or taken for granted, with virtuous formality and exhibiting them in a gallery, I try to present them to the viewer as individuals with reconsidered status and importance. I would like to remind the viewer of the significance of every job and the role it plays in a society and a developing economy, but also the importance of work for survival, the elimination of poverty and ultimately the eradication of crime.
The value of work extends beyond our tangible environment. It has statistically been proven that work can give a person a sense of dignity and value proving it to be an influence on our psychological well being especially in a country struggling with work shortages and an added constant influx of work seekers from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The gardener VI is one of my favourite working portraits and a person of which I have made a recurrence of portraits throughout the past eleven years. Having known William Matseba literally my whole life, a personal affection for his character is enough reason to return to his subject besides the fact that he is wonderful subject matter for portraiture. I suppose one could call him portray-genic.
With this drawing I again ask the question: In what measure do we still unconsciously assess our fellow man’s character by his outer appearance? I show Mr Green in a type of silhouette portrait reminiscent of silhouette portraits that became popular during the mid 18th century. It was believed that the method by which your personality was shown in your face was that your personality pushed your ‘soft’ head bones into predictable shapes, depending on the forces of that personality. The subject of this drawing was my neighbour.
July and Praakie is a portrait of July, a very interesting character I came to know.
Not having a real home, he claimed a small piece of land right next to a rather large road where he settled and started to build his ‘home’. At first it was only a shed, but it gradually expanded and became – what to me looks like – an African fairy garden. He now has a tiny building with a real cement floor, a big fenced off yard (fence made from reclaimed wood), a vegetable garden, compost heap, chicken coops, pigeon cages, a lovely array of pot plants and his home is a welcome haven to every stray dog that comes along. His plot is also adorned with the things he sells – chicken and bird houses made of straw, some of them looking like real birds nests – an artist in his own right. Old toys and any kind of bright object he could salvage from other people’s waste, gives his house the appearance of a magic wonderland. As the portrait neared completion, I realised that it was almost more a portrait of his dog Praakie than of July, with July almost becoming the vehicle to present Praakie. The portrait was selected as one of 50 portraits for the SPI National portrait awards exhibition in 2013.
Oil on board
60cm x 60cm
Spraygun forms part of my theme of ‘South African labourers’, which I started to explore in 2005 and which I am still very interested in today.
In treating the people who are often being overlooked or taken for granted – but who play a vital role in the society and our economy – with virtuous formality and exhibiting them in a gallery, I tried to present them to the viewer as individuals with reconsidered status and importance. In South Africa there is still a too wide class distinction especially manifesting in the type of work one does. Manual labourers are generally viewed as less important and and are paid considerably less.
With my portraits of different types of work, but especially hard labour I aim to bring to the viewer’s attention the significance of every job and the role it plays in a society and to focus the viewer’s attention not only on the importance of work for survival- but also for psychological well being.
Goldsmith is another one of my South African labourers, a theme that has kept me busy for almost ten years in which I try to convey the value of ordinary workers in a country where certain types of jobs and people are sometimes considered as less important.
Goldsmith was inspired by a visit to a jewellery factory that makes products for the wholesale jewellery market and chain stores. The work is repetitive and not creative or inspiring and the workers have to work according to formulas.
I took my goldsmith out of his factory setting and changed the ambiance of his environment to something that resembles a classical painting, trying in this way to convey something reverent in his manner and using the light in the painting in such a way as to almost convey something of divine inspiration.
From my interest in South African labourers stemmed an even broader appreciation for all types of work, job creation and the creation of small businesses – an aspect essential in a country struggling with employment shortages.
Chocolate is a painting in which work is celebrated. Chocolate originally formed a pair with Cheesecake a painting of a chef busying herself with the crust of a pastry, now sold. These two paintings were inspired by twin sister chefs who runs their own deli/restaurant and cooking workshops.
Africa II >>
Pastel on board
26cm x 26cm
Africa II is another one of my working portrait in which I explore that aspect of an individual’s identity that relates to his or her vocation. Africa II is a seamstress at a bridal wear design and manufacturing company.