UNSKILLED WORKER AKA HELEN DOWNIE IS A MYSTERIOUS AND FASCINATING ARTIST WHO IN THIS INTERVIEW TO RED MILK TALKS ABOUT HER ART, HER INSPIRATIONS AND HER COLLABORATION WITH ALESSANDRO MICHELE.
How you define Unskilled Worker in three adjectives.
Persistent, Inquisitive and Intuitive
How your passion for illustration born is?
I drifted for a long time. I don’t think I ever really liked the idea of growing up. I’ve never felt like a grown up even though I’ve done grown up things. I have lived my life back to front and painting wasn’t planned. I was in Italy, looking for something to do with my time while my partner was working. Everything happened so accidentally: I started with a few pens and inks. Initially I thought I would paint for six weeks but once I started I couldn’t stop. I think the time was right: I needed the space and in many ways it’s become harder the longer I’ve painted. I mistakenly thought it would get easier but it never has. It was quite a tense situation but It’s been a bit like falling in love.
How much of Helen Downie’s private life there is in Unskilled Worker’s works?
It’s difficult to separate my private life from my paintings as they are so entwined. Everything I’m feeling comes out in my work.
In an interview you said “If you’re painting almost every day you become an artist”. Is art dedication and constancy for you?
I painted and painted until it began to work. Also, painting has a way of teaching me who I am; the things about my character that have caused problems in my life are the same things that drive me to paint. That’s been a revelation!
What inspires your illustrations? Are there any places that are more inspiring for you than others?
Many of my paintings are situated in places I found fascinating as a child. I think I am always trying to get back to my childhood; to get back to the wonder I felt as a seven year old and to take people with me. I want to feel the way I did as a child looking at my first book.
The characters of your works are fascinating, mysterious, with a sense of melancholy in their expression: observing their big and deep eyes is like being catapulted into another dimension. What does this detail mean to you?
I have an idea that at the centre of humans we are all so similar, a sadness that I feel resides in all of us. Sometimes the characters can feel as if they’re painting themselves. They seem very real to me and if they don’t, then it’s not working and they won’t seem real to you either.
Everything started with your Instagram profile @unskilledworker. How important was this platform to make your works known to the public?
Social media has changed the landscape of how work can be seen. It has made art more inclusive for many people and has enabled artists and collectors to connect outside of the gallery system. Instagram has been an amazing platform for me to share my work to a wider audience. It has also given me the opportunity to meet so many interesting and inspiring people that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible before. The world has become very small. At the time of starting my account, I had no idea of its potential, it was an immaculate place for my work to exist outside of my messy workspace.
Your collaboration with Gucci and Alessandro Michele starts in 2015. What do you have in common with him from an artistic point of view?
To me, Alessandro’s work has a sense of mystery, it’s so multi layered, almost like a map of everything that has fascinated him since childhood. His work is transportive and reaches people on different levels; I think that’s why teenagers to granny’s love what he’s doing. I like my own work to be as transportive and multi layered; darkness mixed with humour, I find it difficult to talk about the elements in my own work, maybe that’s why I paint.
What does the world of fashion and art have in common?
I think fashion informs us about history and culture and can challenge boundaries in the much the same way as art: I think they’ve always found each other irresistible
Fashion and art have always been friends, although art is slow and fashion is fast. I feel that culturally they both have as much to say, although it takes a few decades for fashion to give away the secrets of the time in which it was created whereas art seems more immediate.
What effect does to see your works become so famous, displayed on the streets of the most important cities in the world, from London to New York, Paris, Milan and Shanghai?
It was really incredible! Strangely the sites that Alessandro chose for London, all had a meaning for me, it was very emotional!
What are the projects you would like to realise in the 2018?
My works on display next in 2018 at the International Art Fair ‘Art Central Hong Kong. I’m not sure what’s happening after that – possibly Shanghai or Seoul.
Photos courtesy of press office
Interview Irene Bellucci