As part of this year's Fermanagh Live Arts Festival (FLive), Wexford based artist and sculptor Helen Merrigan Colfer is exhibiting her unique figurative pieces at the Devenish Gallery, Enniskillen. Helen uses a resin medium which is built up gradually and hand-modelled over steel armatures. Each piece is then painted using handmade oil paints before being embedded into a granite base. The work is invariably inventive, touching and profoundly personal. Here Helen tells The Impartial Reporter about her artistic background, what inspires her work and what her art means to her.

JC: What inspires your art?

HMC: Love of nature, the human form, a journey in search of self identity, having emotional connections to a subject matter and knowing that I have the right to make comment on my own personal experiences through my work. Of course the coastal landscape of where I am living in Wexford is hugely inspiring. It kicked off a new direction in my work back in 2014. Amazing patterns and shapes created by Mother Nature at her best. Who couldnʼt be anything but inspired.

JC: Is there a specific place that you do your work?

HMC: Yes, I have a studio thatʼs attached to our home on the tip of the Hook Head Peninsula in county Wexford. I feel the need to be able to walk in and out of my work space at the drop of a hat. To be able to leave things as they fall so that I can just take up exactly where I left off without having to look for things. Iʼm really bad at remembering where Iʼve put things, I even forget that I already own various tools and end up having multiples which I still

inevitably forget where Iʼve placed them! So I tend to leave things out and about which makes for a very messy studio space.

JC: What are you currently working on?

HMC: Since April 2018 Iʼve been working on a body of work where the underlying concept is very personal to me. It could be summed up as an emotional memoir really. Iʼve been on a journey of self healing and discovery.

Creating these pieces has been very cathartic and meditative for me. The earlier pieces in this collection were quite raw but as Iʼve been progressing with the work the hard edges have slowly softened and Iʼve found that my mind has begun to gradually lighten and so has the work.

JC: What has been your most ambitious piece to date?

HMC: Thatʼs a difficult question, since I would automatically consider that an ambitious piece would be something thatʼs incredibly large in scale, possibly levitating, involving magical technology (all technology is magic to me!) or maybe involve travelling great distances or something. So far my work has been on such a small scale that it feels weird to say any of it was ʻambitiousʼ. Keeping that in mind however I suppose the body of work which Iʼm currently immersed in is ambitious. Itʼs more of a journey through an emotional memoir. The ability to work on a collective group of sculptures which will span more than two years in the physical making and to be able to maintain a cohesiveness between each piece and to have the work still remain fresh within the final group exhibition I think for me is ambitious. All the more so because the underlying concept is so personal to me. I deliberately chose to portray this body of work in bronze and of course this brings with it the extra financial weight of collectively producing 20 different bronze pieces, with the last piece being life size! Yes I think this might well be very ambitious in many ways.

JC: What has been your favourite project to date?

HMC: Can I have two? The first has to be working on the group piece ʻTribeʼ. A group of goat herding figures. I loved working on the combination of animals and figures. Those months were filled with hope regarding nature, nurturing, caring, compassion, loving, embracing and acceptance. Textures and colours that echoed rural existence and experiences. This grouping of five pieces began in 2017 and the final piece was only completed in 2019!

The second piece has to be my current work which is about a journey of self awareness and acceptance, both of myself and my past. An emotional memoir. It has been quite a healing journey where I feel a veil has been slowly lifted from my eyes, which is kind of ironic since I have face blindness and so I really do have a veil of sorts permanently over my eyes!

JC: How would you describe your artistic style?

HMC: Do I have an artistic style? I donʼt know to be honest. I gave up painting because it felt like everything I painted ended up looking the same. I felt like that was a flaw, maybe it was my artistic style and I never recognised it as such. Whenever I painted people, my favourite subject matter, it seemed that I ended up making all the faces the same, even now I seem to be modelling the same faces on my sculptures no matter how much I try to change them.

Maybe itʼs another side effect of having face blindness, I seem to keep seeing the same generic face.

Maybe as a result I do have a ʻstyleʼ by default! I know that I am not interested in reproducing sculptures that are 100 per cent realistic. Although there are aspects of realism in my work.

JC: What does your art mean to you?

HMC: It means everything to me, it shouldnʼt but it does. Each time I complete a piece and let it go into the world outside my studio it represents a part of me, corny and what every artist says I know! It also represents my gaining of more self confidence. The putting of one foot in front of the other and having the confidence to say something out loud, that others might want to hear it or that it might strike a cord with someone else. My art represents me finally accepting my past and the acceptance of myself by myself. The idea of being propped just in the balance runs through my current work, it reflects how I have felt for most of my own life. I hope a subtle sense of vulnerability and strength comes with this push pull on balance, this feeling of being on the edge. The idea of precarious balance suggests that a person can be fragile and strong simultaneously, navigation through life can be difficult but we are all stronger than we think possible.