Marjorie Hellman

Marjorie Hellman

Growing up between Philadelphia and New York, I became an avid museum goer, making my first visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at age nine. My passion for looking at art led me to study at Rhode Island School of Design, (European Honors Program, BFA Painting, 1971), then Cranbrook Academy of Art, (Graduate Painting Program), both life shaping experiences. After completing my MFA at Syracuse University, I remained in upstate New York for over 25 years, teaching studio art on the college level, and exhibiting throughout the Northeast.

Although my work has shifted from descriptive to abstract over the years, it has always been responsive to observations about the natural world and my environment, as well as to what I read, ranging from scientific articles to literary fiction. Drawing from these various influences helps me make connections between disparate elements that register over time in both my conscious and unconscious memory.

Moving to North Carolina in 1999, my studio practice and exhibition opportunities continued until interrupted by serious injuries from a car accident. By 2009, I was able to start on my way back to a productive life, making small works on paper with colored pencils.

In 2012, I returned to live in Providence; by 2013, I was able to handle paint again, although limited range of motion affects my physical approach. Living on Providence’s East Side, near the river, prompted an observation of the confluence of architecture, water and reflected light. What emerged in my work at that time was a deconstruction and reconstitution of this relationship. Geometry, which continues to inform my thinking, has long played a role in how I see and learn, dating from my freshman year at RISD when I was first introduced to its function in understanding growth patterns in nature.

Another significant aspect of living in Providence again is how memories from my formative years of study are resurfacing, layering back into a more developed sensibility: my first exposure to jazz, and the discovery of parallels between music composition and visual language.

In general, my process begins with drawing, distilling information from my accumulation of notes. For paintings, I work on hard substrates, (wood or aluminum panels), applying acrylic paints as flatly as possible in multiple coats to achieve an opaque, brushstroke-free surface. For each new piece, I mix up a starting palette, which sets the pendulum in motion. Formally, I pay attention to degrees of contrast in hue, value and tonality that shape compositional reading, but without any predetermined intent, the color development evolves. Characteristic of my work is the illusion that shapes appear transparent or translucent, creating ambiguous readings of structure, space, light and atmosphere. The labor intensive execution I employ gives me the opportunity to think and extend decisions over time, to intuitively focus on color as the key expressive medium. Paintings made in 2014-2016 began to explore the interface between digital and non-digital vocabularies, and how our approach to learning and processing information are being reshaped by technology. Departing from grid based compositions of the previous several years, the new work, dating from 2017, reflects my having moved to a live/work space located in a once thriving historic industrial area where architectural behemoths surround me in shafts of light, shadow and a multitude of overlapping diagonals. I continue to contemplate the melding of historical influences and the impact of technology, digitization, and scientific discoveries on the making and perceiving of art. 

Here are a few examples of her work.