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Artist Profile: Helen Lant

Photo by Ellen Schoenmaker
Photo by Ellen Schoenmaker

Helen Lant ’18 is a studio art major who works primarily in three dimensional art: ceramics, sculpture and welding. The S&B’s Candace Mettle sat down with her to talk about style, inspiration and using art for activism.

What type of art do you do?

I haven’t really landed on one specific medium yet, but so far I’ve really enjoyed 3D art, particularly sculptures and ceramics. Last year I took a sculpture class and I really enjoyed both welding and woodworking. I feel like with 3D art I get to fully extend my creative ideas more fully, more so than with 2D art. So really I’ve just been focusing on 3D art.

Are you a studio art major?

I am, yes.

What made you decide on studio art?

Honestly, in the beginning it was sort of this panicked lack of anything that I really wanted to do, like I was thinking of sociology but it wasn’t really vibing with me. So I just sort of out of the blue was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to do studio art.’ I’ve always loved art classes and I was pretty conventionally good at artistic things so I was like, fuck it, I’m going to do studio art. Ever since I have felt way more academic drive in [art] classes more than anything else so definitely it was the right decision.

In what ways is there more academic drive?

I don’t know, I guess I’m a big procrastinator. I prioritize things I have to turn in over readings to the point that I won’t really do readings and stuff, but with studio art … I find if I have an idea I know that I have to chase it down. I have to finish it and I have to make it perfect. And so it’s like a definite. I just have way more connection to it [than any] reading or experiment that we may be doing in another subject.

You mentioned how you were interested in sociology. Do you think that’s one of the reasons why you’re drawn to 3D art, or is there stuff that you’ve learned from sociology that has inspired your interest?

Currently, not really. I find that right now, I … like to work non-representationally with my art. [I] like making really abstract shapes out of things and … deliberately trying to separate my art from any kind of direct message because in a way that sort of ruins art for other people. If you know, the artist has posted a long paragraph about what this represents and what this means. Art is important for other people because they can take away their own meaning from it but in the long term I think [sociology] really has [impacted my art] because I’m starting to formulate what I want to do after school and I’m really interested in going into art therapy which is basically using art … with drug addicts and people who have been in prison to put them in touch with a more emotional side of their body, and to just get shit out. They’re starting to pop up in prisons so I’m really interested in being an art therapist in a prison down the road sometime.

Are you currently volunteering for Grinnell-in-Prison?

Not this semester, but I did a couple semesters ago and it was a really formative experience seeing, sadly, how hopelessly intelligent those people are and they’re such good dedicated students, but they’re never going to get out of prison. I just want to be able to [do] it for the ones who are stuck there for the rest of their lives and reconnect with their community because it is a community, and for the ones who are going to get out [I want to] help them heal and if they’re completely wrongly accused for whatever, make life better for them.

You kind of touched upon it, but do you have a distinctive style?

I think I do. People describe my work as very Elvin a lot, a lot of curvy lyrical lines [and] sort of, plant like things. I’ve been in ceramics [and] we’re working on these huge jars that are supposed to be completely covered in detail, so I’ve been doing like these swirly designs over the jar. It’s really fun, but I guess that I’ve been really thinking a lot about the concept of an artistic voice. People are always chasing that, but in a way, [I] don’t really want to find mine because I feel like once you’ve find it, you’re sort of locked in to like speaking with that voice. I feel like I want to be able to branch out more and more as I develop my skills.

Photo by Sarah Ruiz

Do you have any inspirations, either an object or person?

This is going to sound weird, but Lord of the Rings has been such a big inspiration for me artistically. I think just the movies in particular– just looking at how detailed and aesthetic every single thing in the movies are, the costumes and the set. They’re just so beautiful and detailed and a lot of it is metalwork and woodwork and so those have been just sort of an inspiration point for me visually. [I’ve also been inspired by] different artists like the artist Andy Goldsworthy. He does … natural art that is very easily washed away. He’ll build a wood sculpture in the middle of the ocean and within hours the tide would have taken it away but that complete acceptance with nature is really cool and I find that I am really inspired by nature in a lot of my work.

If you could have participated into any art movement, what would it have been?

Wow… that’s a good question. I feel like that’s kind of a difficult question as a woman because there’s so many awesome art movements that happened in a day when like I would not have been taken seriously or been allowed to speak. I guess… I really like the Dadaist movement… [I like] a lot of collage and they used trash to make art. I remember learning about it in intro to art history and I really loved the resourcefulness of it during a time of war, but again in a time when I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

You said you were interested in welding. How is it like to be interested in it as a woman because to me it seems like a very masculine type of art.

Yeah I totally agree! I remember feeling like a total badass when I was learning how to do it and just like this Norse god controlling electricity. It was definitely a … confidence building thing to do because I remember that it was the very first thing that we did in our sculpture class. I

wouldn’t necessarily say it’s as hard as it looks, but it’s a very tricky thing and it’s very dangerous and hot and you have to wear all of this gear… it’s a great starting point to go on to easier things.

Photo by Sarah Ruiz

Do you have any tips for aspiring artists?

I guess like my print media professor, Professor [Matthew] Kluber, [Art and Art History] would always say, ‘don’t worry about making art, just worry about making something.’ I think that’s always good advice because I think as artists we probably all worry about … what would other people think and how is this going to be received. I think in order to make art we [need] to divorce ourselves from what other people are going to think and … make something and if it comes from you and what you’re truly thinking, then it will be art.

Is that how you started out?

No, it’s where I’ve gotten to, or at least I’m working on getting to, but I definitely started out [thinking] “this has to be really edgy or I really got to push the envelope’ [but] … screw all that. I just want to do what I’m going to do and if it makes me happy, then it’s great. Yeah, it is a kind of a scary thing to allow yourself to have confidence in you to get better at something, even if you’re not that great at it.

What future does your art have, or what styles, goals do you have in mind?

Right now I’m in a ceramics class and I can sort of see myself doing ceramics casually, but I really do want to continue with sculptural design. I definitely want to learn how to solder. It’s like … how really small metal jewelry might have intricate metal detail. I want to learn how to do that because … right now all I know how to do really is stick two pieces of metal together, but I definitely want to increase my skill level with metal and with wood and sort of see how I can join those two loves together. It’s sort of an interesting blend between the natural and the industrial and I think they’re just such beautiful material that you can make cool shit out of.

What are your other job interests?

I’m waffling between going freelance and moving to the west coast and becoming an artist- artist you know… I do want to try somehow to better the world with what I do, and I feel like just being a hermit artist selling all my stuff to rich people is not really making the world any better unless you have one specific message you are sending out. So, I either want to find a message to send out or do art therapy.

What’s your favorite 3D animation and why?

I just saw Zootopia this summer and I just thought it was amazing. Both the storyline, you know, such an obvious allegory on police brutality and just the animation was so cute and just vibrant and super detailed. I just thought it was really super amazing. I don’t really watch a lot of cartoons anymore but that movie just floored me it was hilarious and relevant it was really good.

Photo by Sarah Ruiz
Photo by Sarah Ruiz
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