Marie-Hélène’s recent work has been a pursuit in rectifying what she sees as a schism in 20th century art. Examining her own inspirations, the artist finds a rift between works by artists who represent hyper distilled poles in the canon of modern art: David Smith, an almost aggressively anti conceptualist artist whose work is solely preoccupied with form and space – the most immediate and literal possible sculptural concerns, and Marcel Duchamp, who’s work inspires virtually unending intellectual unravelings. Though these artists are not often grouped together in academic discourse, Marie-Hélène finds their legacies pose a creatively fertile ongoing dichotomy in the intellectual landscape of contemporary art: that form for form’s sake and rigorous conceptual work are mutually exclusive. For Marie-Hélène the process of creating artwork is by definition antagonistic to that premise, as it is about imbuing form with conceptual gravity, grounding conceptual concerns with steadfast formal value.
The artist’s creative output’s formal precedent refers to two specifically divergent periods in her own life: a background in high level mathematics, and an aesthetic preoccupation with industrial metal refuse, as explored in her extensive experience with welded steel sculpture. When starting a new piece, Marie-Hélène brings together discarded factory produced metal fixtures into a spontaneous arrangement aligned with classical geometry (i.e. the golden mean). Combining further plaster castings of metal elements with original cast geometric forms the artist strikes a median between traditions of conceptualism, assemblage and strict formalism.
Beyond simply combining objects in a unified compositional space, the ‘Landscape’ Series find the artist fixated on the transformation of a handful of cast metal industrial forms – specifically, factory rejected pipefittings – which she considers hold a latent sculptural potential, into a plethora of identical offspring, economically reproduced, then colored with new life. The artist sees poetic meaning in recycling and repurposing discarded objects of utility imbuing them with new utility, a near opposite context to their initial intended use, one of visual splendor as opposed to one of rusting disrepair.
For the ‘Untitled’ Series Marie-Hélène uses copper and steel rather than canvas or another traditional two-dimensional foundation surface for its noble connotation, historically a sibling of gold, silver and iron. In the artist’s eye these noble materials are as immutable, essential in their fundamental form, carrying more symbolic weight than alloys or composites of polluted derivatives. Having copper occupy the role of the canvas in these works, then incorporating its natural patina into the composition presented on its surface integrates form and material in a uniquely unified way, true to the artist’s preoccupation with seamless integration of form, material and content.
Color fields akin to those present in Abstract Expressionist works of the mid 20th century permeate Marie-Hélène’s work, but instead of existing as imposing canvases those of the artist turn into a texture or skin on her sculptures. These abstract hazes take on a different expressive character when integrated with the earthy and raw forms she uses. The artist superimposes these colors, which are close-up photographs of patinated copper, onto forms which are plaster replicas of steel castings as well as onto her works on copper panel. In this cycle of repurposing texture and form from metal then recombining their constituent parts, the artist reaches a synthesized plane of materiality where surface and form are fluid.