“Often in Goth culture …[art] deals with dark subject matter,” explains painter Monty Helm
Monty Helm’s paintings in The Gothic Series are on view at the John Waldron Arts Center until August 29th. Born 1955 in East Chicago, Indiana, Helm currently works as an Associate Professor of Fine Arts in Owensboro, Kentucky. The series includes paintings and charcoal sketches of women who identify as “Gothic”, combining beauty, “the dark side of humanity” and a richness of fashion.
Exploring The Dark Side
Many people have their own idea of what the Goth culture is about. “The style is very dramatic,” Helm suggests, “the fashion is … extreme…Goth culture is a little isolated, it’s out of the ordinary.”
These are dark paintings, thematically and tonally. Take Virgin Bones, for example, one of the paintings in the series. Its subject is an artist and photographer, Helm explains. She’s bandaging a cut on her arm, in the shape of an inverted cross. It’s a direct portrait of a subject, whose eyes engage the viewer.
They show women like Samantha, wearing black make-up and a black dress, looking down at the viewer with an expression on her face you cannot read. She’s standing in a dark room, only lit by the candles surrounding her.
“I’m very drawn to that type of imagery. … I’m always interested in the things that are out of the norm, … things that you just don’t see every day. … And I think … especially with the Goth women, … there’s a real … sexuality and a real … dark beauty to them, that I think makes a real interesting subject in terms of art.”
Tales Of The Exotic And The Familiar
Helm’s fascination with the darkness and deviance of Goth culture is obvious. He reveals some of his painting’s fascinating back stories. In Psycho Noir, for example: “I got to know [the model] when I initiated the series. … She’s actually from Spain and as I got to know her, I discovered that she’s in the lineage of Francisco Goya … . She has her hands in a position doing … a shadow puppet. She created a bull image onto the screen behind her. And the image is kind of my … dedication to Francisco Goya, who was once a bullfighter in his young career.”
Like Goya, Helm has always been interested in art: “I was certainly impressed with Vincent van Gough. Not because [of] his dramatic life, but more because of his work ethic [and] his vision … . I kind of modeled myself after him in the beginning.”
But Helm is inspired by other art forms as well: “I love Bob Dylan [and] … his work, too. … He’s a poet. Not just a musician … His work is poetry and there [are] no answers in his songs and a lot of different possibilities that could be interpreted in different ways. I like that, as well.”
One of Helm’s charcoal drawings takes inspiration from a very familiar – though still uncanny – source. The Sleep Walker shows a young woman in a white nightgown striding down a straight stair case, towards the viewer. Her arms are hanging down stiff next to her body and her head is held high. Her eyes are closed and her face looks relaxed, while her body walks through the pitch-black darkness. This image was inspired by Helm’s mother, who used to sleepwalk to the cellar as a child. After not having wandered at night for many years, the doctors found her in the basement of a hospital, during her stay there. He “always thought that was kind of fascinating, dark, scary. And it’s … a response to that. … It’s this … inventive type drawing based on that memory of my mother.”
Helm’s artistic career has encompassed sculpture and photography, but painting has always been his main focus: “When I began as an artist [in 1974] … I was a landscape painter. I always liked working with the figure, … in the beginning I would do straight portraits and scenes … . But as my skill developed and as my … intellectual abilities developed, I wanted to create something on a higher level of meaning.”
Unsettling The Viewer
Although he’s painted so many different things in his career, the current series is different from what he has done before: “It’s real powerful, because the scales of these images are life-size, or bigger than life. I tried very hard, to make them very perfect, in terms of painterly style … I wanted them to work together as a group, that … when you walked into the gallery you’d think ‘Oh this is complete. … This is not just a collection of pieces at random.’ “
Beyond getting the viewer’s attention, Helm hopes to unsettle her, at least somewhat – “I think there’s a certain aspect of life that is sometimes … ignored, and … I want to challenge the viewer. I don’t want them to just think ‘Oh what a pretty picture!’ … I want them to think on a … deeper level. … I think that’s what’s really great about art … you can look at it again and again and still gain new refreshment, new meaning and new … inspiration. And I hope that’s what my artwork does.”
The Gothic Series will be displayed at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center until August 29th. There is more information on Monty Helm and his work on www.thestudioarts.com.