“Unskilled Worker” / Interview with artist Helen Downie


I discovered Unskilled Worker art online with the collaboration she did with the brand Gucci a few years ago. I never thought I would have the chance to interview her, but I instagrammed her and she was really cool about it. I am really big fan of her art work. I decided she was going to be part of coolhunting because she has an unique technique and I also wanted to know more about her craft.

Hi Helen,  When did you started your career?
I began seven years ago. It was a quiet whisper in my mind, I could easily have ignored it but luckily for me I didn’t. Once I began to paint, it was all I wanted to do, everything else seemed to fade away and when I wasn’t painting I was waiting to paint. 

Did you always knew you wanted to be an artist?

Yes I did and in many ways I lived like an artist without producing anything. I needed the space in my life, externally and internally, once I had that I began. 

How did you came across with the name of “Unskilled Worker”?
I’d noticed the words unskilled worker long before I began to paint. I liked  the way they look when written. Its also genderless, I’m a very open person but on line I can feel shy and I didn’t really feel comfortable with people knowing me. It was instinctive to make it my painting name and for a while I hid behind it. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with my real name Helen Downie and maybe I will begin to sign my work in that name. 

How would you describe your style and expression through your art?don’t think about my style of work, I never have, it morphs slightly from one painting to the next. I make pictures that are like portals into another world. I like to think that the viewer is compelled to create their own narrative, bringing them back to the wonder of the world through a child’s eyes. 

What is your creative process like?

I notice my thoughts and the way I’m feeling, I don’t use sketch books, I write lines, they can be fleeting thoughts or single words and don’t make much sense but somehow they begin to form an image in my minds eye. Before I begin the image is fully formed, although it morphs and moves, changing colours and composition. The painting process is the final part, it’s like a build up of pressure, the image in my minds eye needs to burst out! 

Where does your inspiration comes from?

Inspiration is all around and everywhere, information gets drawn in at a subconscious level. With lock down, I noticed a difference, something has changed in what bubbles up to the surface, there isn’t the interaction with people that trigger thoughts, so it all feels more internal. Maybe the lack of people has made me interact with trees more! So paintings of trees began to shine out on Instagram and I came across the work of Charles Burchfield. I don’t think I’ve ever loved paintings in the way I do his, they are everything I would like in my own work, they vibrate with a magical energy beyond the paper they are rendered on. I love that his work is on paper too, I so relate to it, how delicate it is yet so tough! Sometimes I think I should work on canvas but it doesn’t have the same quality, there’s a connection with my childhood that’s triggered by the feel of paper. I always seem to morph into using new materials, it’s not really very conscious, I’ll just find myself reaching for something different. Im drawn to artists that create complex reality’s, the work of Aya Takano, on first sight there’s a prettiness, look closer and a darkness hides but in a light way, I love that. Religious works too, the majesty and preciousness, they are so serious they sometimes become funny. Humour  is important to me in my own work. Sometimes when I’m working I laugh at my own jokes, painting Rock Hudson as a pink horse, I laughed so much when I gave him teeth

On what exhibitions have you participated on?
My work has been exhibited at The Daelim Museum in Seoul, The Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai and ABC Museo in Madrid, Mass Gallery Tokyo among others. I’m fortunate to be able to work with charity’s and one of my paintings featured in an auction held at Hauser and Wirth for the amazing charity, The Hospital Rooms.

Where have you published you work?

Vanity Fair, Vogue China, British Vogue, American Vogue, Harper’s Bazar art issue cover, Artnet, The Art Gorgeous, The New York Times, Dazed and The Other magazine among others

Tell me about what are you currently working on.
I’m working on collaborations with digital artist Jonathan Zawada who I’ve long admired, he will be bringing my painting to life through animation for exhibition in The Metaverse. It’s an exciting new way for people to experience my art, I like the idea of analogue work being shown in a digital realm, bring the past and future together. 

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