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Helen Sinclair

Helen transforms objects she finds on the beach into beautiful works of art”

Iain Barratt

Director Catto Gallery

Its a testament to Helen's skill that she can conjour such profound emotion from just a few elegant lines”

Tim Green

Art journalist

Helen Sinclair always had a talent for art, but she didn't discover her flair for sculpture until she was half way through a foundation course in her native Wales. This led her to study sculpture under the late Peter Startup at Wimbledon School of Art during the mid-seventies. And it was here she met and married fellow sculpture student, Terry Ryall, who remains her chief collaborator. 

After college, Helen taught for 12 years before attempting to strike out as a full time artist. At first, she made the work she thought people wanted – neo-classical sculptures inspired by the renaissance giants she admired in her formative years. They did OK. But it was when Helen decided to pursue her own artistic muse that her career blossomed and her style developed into something extraordinary.

The figures sculpted by Helen can be melancholy, playful or self-absorbed, but they are always elemental. Like the best sculpture they have the power to arouse profound emotion in the viewer and seem to belong in the natural world. It's uncanny – as if they've risen up from the Welsh coast where Helen has her studio. And I'm sure this 'earthiness' explains why Helen has so many admirers and a collector base that spans Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, America, Australia and New Zealand.

For Helen, the appeal of sculpture lies in the primitive impulse behind it. "Children instinctively mould objects in 3D before they ever think about painting," she says. "And there's evidence to suggest that human beings were making 3D objects thousands of years before the first paintings appeared. It's deep inside us."

Maybe this is why Helen's beautiful work is almost entirely figurative – whether it's in a representational work such as If You Leave Me Sighing or in more rectilinear pieces like Double Harmony or Early Portrait. It's interesting how Helen's oeuvre divides between these two styles. The artist says the eventual form of the piece has more do with the materials that inspire the work than any pre-conceived decision. Helen often uses found objects from her beach walks as the springboard for a new piece. In the case of Early Portrait, it was a piece of furniture.

If the cubist flavour of these fabulous 'primitive' works suggests a debt to Picasso, it's no accident. Helen is a big fan, to the extent that some pieces – The Dream, Bright Lights Tonight – are specifically styled after the master. They're wonderful homages, yet still unmistakably Helen Sinclair. Picasso lines up alongside Matisse, Modigliani and Chagall as the artist's chief inspirations. Tellingly, they're all painters interested in the human form, and the first three sculpted too. Helen's also an admirer of the German sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck, who was an early 20th century contemporary of this quartet.

Helen rarely stops working. "I have ideas constantly, I never dry up. The problem is finding enough time to turn these ideas into actual works," she says. Of course, sculpture is hard graft, so this is no surprise. Helen's technique is modelling rather than carving, using plaster, clay, wax and found objects to build up a sculpture that's then moulded and cast – usually in bronze.

However, Helen keeps striving. Like the best artists, she's always seeking after some new perfection. "I think it was Picasso who was asked 'what's you best painting' and replied 'the next one'. That's how I feel."