Michael Helsley Artist Statement

This Statement appeared in my recent installation at Gallery 924 in Indianapolis. The installation was entitled: Do You Remember the Fish, No I Remember the Ice Cream.

After receiving my BFA in 1980, I had several shows in New York City, but then became distracted by a full-time job and a move to Indianapolis. While I never lost interest in creating art, it was no longer a priority. However, following the death of my spouse nearly seven years ago, I began creating artwork again as a way to work though my grief. My intense emotional journey resulted in a prolific expansion of my work. Not being able to find words to communicate grief and its relationship to memory and being influenced by pop culture, graphic novels, and Manga, I began to create characters as expressions of these relationships. For 30 years, I have travelled the highways of the Midwest for work, with billboards marking moments in time. These billboards are carefully crafted to grab your attention, make you think, and hopefully respond to their images. I use billboard fragments in my work to mark these moments in time. These pieced-together fragments create a memory. By using images closely related to pop culture and graphic novel influences, and the addition of images from billboards, the viewer will be reminded of familiar situations that will both trigger and create memories. Some of the smaller pieces take on characteristics of souvenirs or memorials: things you might take away and display to remind you of a moment in the past.
The first character I created was The Astronaut, which I saw as an explorer who is curious and unafraid, but guarded. Another initial character was The Bear. He is the thing that lurks in the background, an unrealized fear. The Bear is ever present, but seldom seen.
With this installation at Gallery 924, I have transformed the space into a large fish bowl by taking advantage of the extensive glass front and creating larger than life images that capture the viewer from outside. This installation introduces a new character, The Fish. In creating this character, I was reminded of the song, Swinging on a Star. The lyrics of this song include: “A fish won’t do anything but swim in a brook, He can’t write his name or read a book, To fool all the people is his only thought…” The Fish is both melancholy and mischievous; he lurks at the bottom of the space, hovering close to the rocks. He is rooted, yet floating. In this show, my initial characters interact with The Fish for the first time. They seem uncertain of this new character. Are they wary of his intentions or have they fallen under his spell? These characters represent different aspects of my journey of memory and grief. My hope is that viewers will engage with these characters in a way that evokes and explores their own memories, as that experience becomes part of the exhibition. 

Helsley received his MFA in sculpture from Herron School of Art & Design in 2014 and his BFA in painting from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY in 1980.

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