Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Rachel Hellmann. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Rachel, appreciate you joining us today. Are you happier as a creative? Do you sometimes think about what it would be like to just have a regular job? Can you talk to us about how you think through these emotions?
I love being an artist. I love that I’m on my feet most of the time and every day looks different. Whether it is trouble shooting on how to construct a new joint in the wood shop or figuring out how a site-specific piece will relate to a new architectural environment, I am always problem solving. When I was younger and imagined myself working full-time as an artist, I imagined that my daily tasks would primarily be composed of creating work. However, I have found, that while creating work is a big part of what I do, I’m also spending a lot of time budgeting, keeping my books, packing up artwork for shipping, taking images and cataloguing my work and prepping for upcoming projects and exhibits. Artists often wear a lot of hats. For me, this aspect is my career is engaging and rewarding.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I have made art for most of my life. I grew up in a family of makers. My grandfather was a furniture maker, my father was always working on home projects and my mother sewed. My early education as an artist instilled in me a love for tools and a love for working with my hands.
I’m interested in the overlap between modes of art-making – where painting meets sculpture, installation and drawing. In my most recent body of work, I created relief paintings created in fluorescent colors. In these pieces, I focus on the ephemeral quality of light and the tension created between the actual and perceived space. The seed of these paintings was planted during a visit to the Chicago Aquarium with my daughter the previous year. I was mesmerized by the quality of light passing through the water and the strange, yet natural bioluminescent colors that I saw. From this experience, I decided to experiment with pigment and specifically with reflected color.
I also create murals. I love the shift that happens in painting as scale changes and as a piece begins to have a direct relationship with the architecture of the space where it resides. For murals, I often develop the original design in the studio and then adjust size and coloration as need be on site. The process of these is exciting in a very different way that my other studio work. There is a lot of problem solving that happens directly on the wall. There is an element of uncertainty right up until the very end which I find both thrilling and challenging.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with different people. Most recently I had the opportunity to do a residency at the Corning Museum Glass. Because of this opportunity, I was able to step way out of my comfort zone in a supportive environment to see how my work would translate into glass. Not only was the experience invaluable due to the access to materials and facilities that are very difficult and costly to come by but also the opportunity to work alongside an incredibly skilled team of people. Each time I’m able to collaborate with other artists, I gain insight to my own work and to that of others. I find exchanges with other artists incredible meaningful and rewarding and a wonderful balance to the more solitary aspect of my studio process.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
Ten years ago, I transitioned from a full-time teaching position to a full-time studio practice. What always sounded like a dream to me was also a bit overwhelming and challenging in practice. When I had been teaching, I was lucky to get 10-15 hours a week in the studio. I would often work in 3-4 hour chunks of time. During the switch to a full-time studio practice, I struggled with feeling unanchored and unorganized with so much time on my hands and realized that I had to approach my studio time in a different way than I had before. I became really committed to a calendar and started tasking out my days and blocking in sections of time for research, accounting and out-reach in addition to my creative practice. I had to shift my thinking to take full advantage of my time and realized that no one would motivate me or insist I stay on task if I didn’t do it myself. I learned a lot about myself that first year.