Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Interview with artist Helen Norton

Helen Norton with Cookie (image supplied by the artist).

Late last year I visited a colleague who had a stunning painting on her wall. It was a work of art called Perilous Journey by Perth-based artist Helen Norton. There was something about this image that really spoke to me (it might have been the white dog with those magic ears). I admire the way some artists are able to tell a story in one picture.

I did some research and learned that “Helen Norton left home at sixteen to spend the next ten years working and living in the most remote desert locations in Australia. Not intending on becoming an artist, her ambitions focused on immersing herself in as much adventure as was possible to extract from life. Settling in Broome in the North West led to a void in adventures so she took up the paintbrush to create a continuing invention of adventures on the canvas.
Norton continued her travels throughout the Kimberley, Pilbara and overseas. She used the experiences to inject her artwork with more complex layers of narrative. Her work gained acclaim quickly, and led to commissions from Qantas to paint two front covers for their in-flight magazines, an exhibition on the QE2, and exhibitions in London as well as successful exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney. She currently lives in Perth WA.”

Wonderfully, she was happy to answer our questions.

What’s your day job?

I am a visual artist – working in oils, acrylics and watercolours. I also manage and operate my art publishing web business Helen Norton Art – which creates prints of my works for a more affordable product.

Your art prominently features animals, particularly dogs. Why are they a theme in your work?

I have always had animals around me of all sorts since I was born therefore I fully understand the exquisite gift they bring to humans. I find animals to be the most objective subject of all subjects despite having a deep emotional connection to animals. Using them in my work gives me a rest. During many difficult periods on my life, an animal (dog or cat) got me through my problems easily, simply because they create a sort of Tao situation by being firmly rooted in only the present, the now.  Love and food now please, and I offer you my affection and attention unending.  It does not get any more pure than that. What a great subject.

How long does it take to create a painting?

Anywhere from an hour to a few years.  It depends on so many things. Sometimes artworks might sit half finished for months because I do not know what to do to them next.  Other times things just flow instantly.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

From being alive to be frank! Therefore everything! Change brings the best inspiration I have found.  Going to a different place stimulates the creative juices.

Why do you think the human-non human animal relationship is important?

The motive of animals is hard to misconstrue (unless you are projecting skewed fantasies onto the animal), therefore animals feel to me like a bringer together of all people, a great leveller.  For those who do not like animals?  Well I believe this is only because they have not been exposed to them, therefore do not understand the simple joy animals bring to the complicated human life.

Animals have few expectations of humans. Different types of animals of course have different natures and needs. The main thing is that they are uncomplicated and for most domestic animals such as dogs and cats – they are a perfect and simple mirror on a person’s behaviour. When you take on the responsibility or custody of an animal – your level of responsibility as a human is tested. You are required to feed, shelter, train and love the animal. If you do not – that pretty much speaks volumes about your attitude to life. Give nothing and get nothing in return.  Pretty sad but often chosen as we can see by the huge amount of dogs and cats in abandoned animal shelters. I find people who really dislike animals concerning. To be frank people who dislike animals (even after having had a chance to experience their company) are usually quite narcissistic. There is no room for narcissism when you care for animals. That might sound harsh but it is accurate and I have seen it over and over.  It is spot on and nothing has proven me wrong on that.

Do you share your life with non-human animals? How did you meet?

What a funny question! Non-human animals! Yes I do. I have one cat in my care now who is 12 years old. I have not had a dog for a few years but would like to look at this again in a few years. I enjoy looking after other peoples dogs, cats, chookies, cows, horses, and all sorts now and again on house sits so that their owners can go away knowing their animals are really taken care of. I have a family member staying at home who can fill the gap for me at home but there is nothing worse than having to put your animal in a kennel to go for a break.  I have done this and never ever enjoyed my ‘break’ as I knew my animal was suffering.  Okay so some animals like the kennels, but not mine!

Any advice you’d like to share with veterinarians and future veterinarians?

I think you do a great job. To love animals, then have to witness, and deal with their suffering and illness including human cruelty must be one of the hardest but noble jobs in the world – if it’s done with compassion. Animals are ALWAYS innocent, no matter what the charge because they are animals and are living directly as themselves.

The only errors humans ever make with any assessment of animals including terrible accidents with children from say dog attacks – is that they do not understand that they are dealing with an instinctual innocent creature. Any accident is caused by either bad training, ignorance of the owner or approaching person as to the nature of the animal. E.g. if a dog is a protective aggressive breed and not respected for the dangers of this by the owner or the victim then this is not the animals fault is it? How can an animal have evil thoughts or plot a murder? Would you behave differently if it was a lion? Of course, and some breeds deserve the same respect for handling.  If a dog breed is dangerous then there should be consideration of this (the onus on the owner) to show they are protecting the dog properly from being placed in dangerous situations (for humans).

Vets would see the human stupidity on animal care over and over and if I were a vet I could find it hard to keep a stiff upper lip on this. Hail to vets!

Thank you Helen for your time. If you want to see more of Helen’s work, follow her on facebook or twitter , or check out her website.