“Beauty Is Not Perfection, It Is Sublimating the Imperfect”: Interview with Helene Delmaire, France

Marine | Helene Dalmaire
Marine | Helene Dalmaire
Cascade | Helene Delmaire
Cascade | Helene Delmaire
Ambrosia | Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”
~ Sylvia Plath

“The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.”
~ Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

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Still Life with Flowers | oil on wood | 30 x 50cm | Helene Delmaire
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Cocon | on wood | 70 x 50cm | Helene Delmaire

o make oneself vulnerable, to “bare” ourselves to those beyond our comfortable circle of trusted friends and family, to share of our fragile interior beyond what is whispered in the dead of night to the love of our life…to take this chance even as we know the risks: Truly, is there anything more courageous? More achingly beautiful?

Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

And isn’t that what we ask of artists? What we depend upon them to deliver?

We often hear art discussed as if its greatest contribution is a means of escape, however momentary. Sweet release from the sharp-edged truth of life. From the rough-faced kiss of our past and future.

But a thing of creative beauty doesn’t have to simply offer us a distracting side trip: it can actually serve as the roadmap itself.  A curious set of hieroglyphics scratched on the wall of our co-traveler’s life, a clue to the caverns another has spelunked down into, the treasures and monsters they’ve found within, and what might be waiting still for us when it is our turn to make that beautiful-terrible journey.

Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

Could that be then one of the greatest gifts art has to offer? A reminder that even in the midst of all of life’s fierce and breathless impermanence, there exists inside of the whirring and tumbling, for those attentive and open enough to receive it, a fleeting moment of fragile bliss?

Still Life with Flowers | Helene Delmaire
Still Life with Flowers | Helene Delmaire

Lille, France ~

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Helene, the vulnerability you are able to convey in your artworks is phenomenal.

D'amour et d'eau fraiche 700
D’amour et d’eau fraiche | oil and gold leaf on wood | 20 x 15cm | Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

Deanna Phoenix Selene: And yet without any hint of powerlessness. This is vulnerability in all of its potent beauty. Femininity as a source of strength, creation, renewal.

Pivoines (Peony) | Helene Delmaire
Pivoines (Peony) | Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Who were your female role models growing up? What messages were taught to you about what it means to be a woman?

Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
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Dormeur 4 | oil on wood | 25 x 33,5cm | Helene Delmaire

Hélène Delmaire: Being the fifth and last child after several male siblings had me questioning from a very young age what it meant to be a girl. It’s a questioning that continues to this day and is a big part of my art.

How can I embrace and claim my female nature without being crushed by a predominantly masculine society?

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D’amour et d’eau fraiche | oil and gold leaf on wood | 20 x 15cm | Helene Delmaire
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Self | oil on wood | 20 x 15cm | Helen Delmaire

Hélène Delmaire: I’m not sure about role models growing up, but I definitely have some now. Sylvia Plath, for example, is a huge inspiration. For me, she embodies the paradox of great fragility and larger-than-life strength.


Hélène Delmaire: And a typically feminine strength at that. Her poems are like slaps in the face: they leave me dizzy. I’m actually planning on starting a series of engravings based on memorable lines from her poems later this year. We know she was vulnerable (most likely bipolar disorder) but I think that vulnerability was the drive behind the groundbreaking work that established her as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Against all that modern society tries to sell us, she was able to look at herself unabashedly and use what she found as an immense creative drive.

Beauty is not perfection, it is sublimating the imperfect.

She did that gloriously. She also had a knack for transforming the ordinary and the mundane into very strong and meaningful symbols, which I think is key to good figurative painting too.

Poppies in July

Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?

You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns.

And it exhausts me to watch you
Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.

A mouth just bloodied.
Little bloody skirts!

There are fumes that I cannot touch.
Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?

If I could bleed, or sleep!
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!

Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,
Dulling and stilling.

But colorless. Colorless.

~ Sylvia Plath

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your Route de nuit, hiver slows the breath and accomplishes what only the very best paintings can achieve, which is to immediately transport the viewer inside the world of that painting. We can feel the crispness of the night air, hear the crunch of snow underfoot, warm ourselves emotionally in the glow of the city lights up ahead. Clearly this location has emotional significance for you. Can you share a bit about what led you to paint this?

Route de nuit, hiver oil on canvas, 81x100cm, 2011 Helene
Route de nuit, hiver | oil on canvas | 81 x 100cm | Helene Delmaire

Hélène Delmaire: That place is next to an abandonned hotel I was planning on using for a photo shoot with two friends for new paintings. When we got there we saw it was almost completely demolished, and after taking a few pictures of the half roofless, naked buildings and broken mirrors, we turned back as it was getting late. I thought we had come all the way in vain. I walked slowly in the snow, checking the few pictures I had taken on my camera. When I looked up, I saw that some lights in the distance had been turned up and my friends were well ahead of me. It was one of those moments when life is more beautiful than art. Who would have thought we were looking at a very ugly construction site?

That moment struck me because it is a visual representation of an archetypal human problem: looking for answers when there seems to be none, existential questions, distant lights in a shrouding fog. I think that’s why I only painted in chiaroscuro at the time, a small light in the big darkness.

Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire
Helene Delmaire

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about Les Mangeurs de Lotus (The Lotus Eaters)? What’s interesting in these works is how the subjects are positioned. In this one, for instance, the action is completely passive, almost as if the flowers are being taken in, as if in a dream.

Les Mangeurs de Lotus - II pencil on paper 28x42cm 2012 Helene Delmaire 700.jpg
Les Mangeurs de Lotus – II | pencil on paper | 28 x 42cm | 2012 | Helene Delmaire

Deanna Phoenix Selene:..While in the others, the action (and lack of involvement of the hands) seems to suggest the idea of vomiting more than consuming….What in these works do the flowers represent for you?

Les Mangeurs de Lotus Drypoint print, edition of 7, 20x30cm, 2011 Helene
Les Mangeurs de Lotus | Drypoint print, edition of 7 | 20 x 30cm | Helene Delmaire
Les Mangeurs de Lotus - I pencil on paper, 50x37cm, 2012 Helene
Les Mangeurs de Lotus – I | pencil on paper | 50 x 37cm | Helene Delmaire

Hélène Delmaire: The Lotus Eaters, in Greek mythology, forgot who they were and where they came from when they ate the lotus flower. You could say they sort of lost their identity but were glad to do so. That’s what attracted me to this story. I think the flowers represent the wild, non-human side that is a part of us too, and that we tend to suppress. Perhaps the child is still close, in her lack of knowledge of the world, to this wild side, so the flowers slip peacefully out of her mouth. She is sleeping, still fully immerged in the unconscious. Growing up, it’s easy to become separated from this part of us. Perhaps that is why the flowers are pushing out in the more adult drawings.

I called the series the Lotus Eaters because I like the reference and sound of the words, but the image that is clearly in my mind is that of the unconscious, represented by the flowers, pushing outwards like an outflowing stream to express itself. It could be a metaphor for any act of creation.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you share a bit about the stages of your artistic process? Your work feels so multi-layered. It is clear a great amount of thought goes into cultivating each piece. What is your favorite stage of your art-making?

Hélène Delmaire: Like many artists I think I love the excitment of the “aha!” moment when the idea comes to you, so clearly, at the most random moment. It feels like it pops out of nowhere, but it is really the final stage of a long, quiet, gestation that the artist is often not even aware of. Then you find common threads to all your works, without really having thought them through before. They are a part of you but you don’t know it until you see them. I also like to think they are a part of a bigger whole, and that is what I prefer about art-making. Linking the personal and the universal. Trying to bring to the eyes of others what you feel in your bones is important, to make them see themselves as they might not have before. Well, at least that’s the intent!

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Nude I – work in progress | oil on wood | 36 x 30cm | Helene Delmaire

Deanna Phoenix Selene: There is a palpable silence in your paintings, which only adds to the overall sense of intimacy. In reality, does your daily life afford you such precious pockets of quietude? Or do your artworks provide for you what life does not always deliver?

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A la dérive | oil on wood | 24 x 34cm | Helene Delmaire

Hélène Delmaire
: Painting is definitely a quiet moment I take with myself. I need moments of peace and silence to keep my balance.

Most creative people need at least some time to themselves for inspiration. I feel extremely lucky to have this. So many people never stop, some don’t even have a chance to. I actually have a small side job as a live model where I am required to stay still for a fairly long time. It’s a great moment to let my mind roam and I often come up with new ideas then.

From a Great Height | Helene Delmaire
From a Great Height | Helene Delmaire

Further Notes

Helene Delmaire has shown throughout Europe including Russia, England, Italy and France with a small number of exhibitions within the United States. In 2012, Delmaire was the finalist for the East West Art Award in Pall Mall, London.

To view more of Helene Delmaire’s work, please visit her website.

Ms. Delmaire’s Instagram: @helenedelmaire

And facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/helene.delmaire.art

Ms. Delmaire is represented by RAWsalt gallery, Laguna Beach, CA, USA – http://www.rawsalt.net

Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.

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