Evelyna Helmer
By Tanya Schneider

The paintings of Chicago-born, Sydney-based artist Evelyna Helmer emphasise the power of nostalgia and the allure of mystery. Often intentionally elliptical, Helmer’s seemingly quiet objects are charged with an emotional and psychological valency. 

Helmer’s works are somewhat Hopper-esque in their cinematic suspension of moments in time. The familiar depictions evoke visions of comfort and, at times, an unnerving childhood whilst dismantling the barrier between reality and illusion. Evelyna Helmer presents objects commonly taken for granted as treasures she has unearthed from early memories, thus encouraging the viewer to engage in a sensitive interaction with visual consciousness and presentation. 

The paintings direct the gaze to the banal and the immediate surface qualities, while simultaneously, they are quite Hopper-esque in their cinematic, dramatic, and suspenseful nature. The luscious and visceral qualities of the thinly applied paint refract light, making the objects all the more physically tangible and in some cases's desirably edible, as seen in the painting Sundae, Petersen’s Ice cream parlour.

Evelyna Helmer's artwork owes perceptible debts to Thiebaud, Morandi, and Celmins' work.

The depicted reality of the objects dissolve as quickly as they appear. This approach is a common theme seen in Helmer's paintings and sculptures.

The shifting atmospheric blur we encounter in Pontiac Long Gone Daddy reflects these ideas. This artwork leaves the viewer with a puzzling and unresolved mystery. The painting's aesthetic alludes to a film’s mise-en-scene. The luxurious fire red Pontiac car races at dizzying speed down an ambiguous highway. In effect, the picture becomes animated. Our gaze attaches itself to the undefined brush smear driving the car as we imagine who it is that sits behind the wheel and what they are fleeing from; or indeed to. 

Before our eyes, there is a mysterious, perhaps even dangerous tension-filled storyline unfolding? It could just as well be, a character from the iconic film, The Godfather? Alternatively, we question other possible interpretations. Is this a metaphorical representation of the viewer behind the steering wheel of life- escaping past or even future experiences. How does this scene adversely affect the other players in the unfolding story? What is required is an elastic imagination and curiosity of the mind. 

The simple objects are painted straight, such as the voluptuous pumpkin or the pair of isolated roller skates; a doctor’s towel; a flower; a plate, knife, and fork; a bottle of milk with berries; bowl of tomato soup but what we come to realise is that the objects have personality and a real-life story. 

The objects are re-imagined personifications of those left behind, of those that are missing from our world and equally of those who are present in our lives and are emotionally connected to us. 

The surreal portrait titled Where are you? Depicts a woman, Helmer's mother, and at once, her daughter Georgiana juxtaposed against exotic black sunflowers arranged in an heirloom Christofle vase with an ominous spider.

In the eponymous painting Chocolate Milk and Cigarettes, we are confronted with a glass of chocolate milk and a box of cigarettes. These objects allude to Helmer’s eldest daughter Gabi and are a representation of the challenges that come with transitioning from a child into an adult. 

The surreal pink fusion of background and foreground bring this nexus into sharp focus, blurring the line between innocence and maturity, youth and adulthood. 

The objects are like the ghosts of people past and present. The complex mystery is tied to the author's life and her objects. 

While aesthetically beautiful, they are breathing a darker side. Like the layers and complexity of one’s inner depths, we can see and feel the layers of a person’s life unfolding. They hold memory and stir the emotions of a time past but experienced in the present- like the characters in Tarkovsky's film Solaris; the objects are isolated in a vast, lonely past grappling with vivid memories and juxtaposed against the uncertainty the future holds.

With that said, Evelyna Helmer encourages us to look to the poet Mary Oliver for inspiration. “ To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."