ABOUT THE ARTIST
I am both a painter and scratchboard artist. I use texturing techniques to create depth and layers in my work, employing all types of mediums and tools, from heavy gesso, crackle mediums, and pallet knives to steel wool, sharp needle tools, and ink.
My art blends figurative and abstract elements, and reflects our spiritual and emotional connection to the environment. Surface textures and cracking techniques help illustrate nature’s fragility, and give each piece a unique, organic and contemporary style.
Raised in one of the oldest communes on the West Coast, it isn’t surprising that I’ve embraced nature as a subject. My childhood home was a cabin in the woods—we didn’t rely on electricity or phones—and I often found myself sketching under the comforting canopy of the forest, alone with my imagination. My connection to nature is profound and unbreakable.
A permanent collection of my work can be seen at the Annie Meyer Gallery in Portland, Oregon.
BA Fine Art – University of California at Santa Cruz
The Annie Meyer Gallery – Portland, OR
2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 – "Open Studios Art Tour" – Portland, OR
2014 – "Winter Series" – Clark Lewis, Portland, OR
2011 – "Sentimental Reflection" – Gallery 135, Portland, OR
2010 – "Flight Series" – Barile Wine Bar – Portland, OR
2009 – “Until Now” – Virtuoso Studios – Portland, OR
2014 – "The Big 500" – Peoples Art of Portland – Portland, OR
2013 – "One Day on Earth" – Union Pine – Portland, OR
2012 – Cascade Aids Project Art Auction – Portland, OR
2011 – "A Celebration of Words & Letters" – The Gerding Theater – Portland, OR
2010 – “First Thursday Open House” – tenfour agency – Portland, OR
2009 – “Cowboys of the Americas” – Onda Gallery – Portland, OR
2008 – “Mail Art” – Pachyderm Gallery – Portland, OR
2008 – “Overkill #2” – Jace Gace – Portland, OR
Grants & Awards
2016 - Belle Foundation for Cultural Develpment
Articles & Writing
Interview with Artist Shyama Helin
A Nature Girl
Many of the figures in Shyama Helin’s paintings are shielded by umbrellas, walk into the woods, or otherwise avoid meeting the viewer’s eye. Each figure is surrounded by nature, obviously has a story, and conveys a mood - but Shyama’s not telling you what that is. “I like to leave things abstract, so there’s space for interpretation,” she said. Nor is she interested in painting with photo-realistic style or perfection in mind. “It’s so rule-oriented,” she said. “I don’t find pleasure in that at all.” This is evident in her unique texturing process that provides a cracked, organic, and unpredictable base for each painting.
Shyama, pronounced “Shaw-ma,” grew up finding her own way of doing things. An only child, raised in Ananda Village, a spiritual commune outside Nevada City, California, she learned both to entertain herself and to play with the other kids in the community. “It was pretty isolated. In a good way,” she said. “We were self-contained in a natural, woodsy environment, and I am sure this is where much of my inspiration comes from.” Without the incessant influences of TV and pop culture, they made their own fun and built life long connections to nature. Her parents and the community recognized Shyama’s artistic talent by the time she was in kindergarten, and she was always encouraged in that direction. “Growing up, that’s who I was,” Shyama said. “It was an early identifier and now I don't know what I would do without it.”
College and Earning a Living
Her art studies continued through high school, supplemented by private lessons. She visited many art schools, but chose to attend college at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I picked the school with the best studios,” she said. UCSC has a beautiful wooded campus with art studios overlooking the ocean. Once again she was surrounded by nature. The art program was long on process and short on how to make a living as an artist. Shyama didn’t know what she’d do for a career. After graduating, she tried working in nonprofits but found it difficult to make ends meet. “Then I swung straight to the other side,” she said. By the time she moved to Portland in 2002, she was working as a project manager with an advertising firm “I am painfully organized,” she said, “but still can relate to graphic designers and creative types. I know how their minds work, so it was an easy fit.” Work took over. Soon Shyama wasn’t doing any art at all. She didn’t miss it at first, “but over the years it became quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to just work a desk job for the rest of my life,” she said. “I felt no direction or passion.” She needed art.
Lacking a dedicated art space, Shyama started making small collages on the kitchen table. In 2007, she debuted at the Urban Art Network Street Gallery (Art in the Pearl) with one boxful of collages. “People really liked them and bought a lot of them,” she said. “Having people buy things from me was very important. It gave me a sense of validity.” She worked small for a couple of years, making collages, prints and cards. As she gained confidence, she tried different venues, including Saturday Market, Last Thursday, street fairs and Crafty Wonderland. As far as selling on the street, she felt that the Urban Art Network Street Gallery was the best match for her work. “UAN is fine art-focused, not a hodgepodge,” she said. “People come there to look at fine art and buy work from upcoming artists like myself.” She’s hung her work in cafes, wine bars and restaurants, and participated in Portland Open Studios five times.
Summers of Painting
When Shyama and her husband moved to a house with a studio in back, her commitment grew. She was ready to go bigger. “I dusted off all my stuff from college,” she said. “Threw out paint that was dried up, started playing with what was left.” Shyama describes her work as mixed media. Even though it’s about 75 percent acrylic paint, the mixed media label gives her room to dab in some oil paint, draw with a sharpie, add collage elements and play with texture.
Once Shyama had a studio, she knew she needed more time to paint. She tried working part time, but had a hard time switching her focus from advertising to painting every day. “Art would always take second place,” About seven years ago she left her steady job, became a freelance Project Manager and never looked back. Now she orchestrates her schedule so she does enough advertising work in fall, winter and spring to take most of the summer off. In the summer, she paints. “It feels like a sabbatical,” she said. She produces as much artwork as she can in those three or four months. Eventually she hopes to complete the shift to full time artist.
Before moving to Portland, Shyama considered the Bay Area. She’s glad she moved here instead. “Portland was more approachable. There were more people like me who were just starting out,” she said of her early days learning to sell art on the street. “It wasn’t hard to sign up. There were lots of opportunities and you could just dive in.” She also doubts that taking summers off would be as culturally accepted in other cities - even as a freelancer. “Portland is very independent, creative and rewards the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “Everybody has a side project or idea”. When she explains to clients that she won’t work full time because she needs time to make art, they are supportive and even excited for her.
The Northwest influence is also apparent in her palette and subject matter. Many of her figures carry umbrellas. Trees figure prominently. And the muted colors are reminiscent of a cloud-shrouded Portland day.
After seven years of giving only three months a year to her art career, Shyama kicked off 2015 by dedicating six months to her craft in addition to joining forces with Annie Meyer from The Annie Meyer Gallery - giving her a permanent place to showcase her work.
Teresa Bergen writes about health, travel, and the arts, and is the author of Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide and the novels Killing the President and Madame Tingley’s Organ. Find out more about Teresa at www.teresabergen.com