Helena Perez Garcia is the artist chosen by “Impars” to create the 2017 UIC Barcelona Christmas Card. Her idea consists of a 35 x 50 cm illustration that reinterprets “The Flight into Egypt”, by Sandro Botticelli.
With a degree in Fine Arts from the Universitat Politècnica de València, Helena Perez Garcia currently lives in London, where she works for publishing companies such as Penguin Random House, Anaya and Santillana. Her work has been exhibited at galleries in London, Melbourne, San Francisco, Madrid, Lisbon and Minnesota, and she also published two illustrated books in France.

Entrevista

Text: Núria Messeguer

Anyone guided by the over-simplified notion often conveyed by film or literature about the lives of artists would tend to think that theirs is a world of constant improvisation and lack of organisation. But nothing could be further from the truth. At least in the case of Helena Perez Garcia (1987), who gets up every morning at the break of dawn –“it’s when I’m most productive”– having already scheduled her day: “The first thing I do is have breakfast, then I read and answer e-mails. I like to plan the day the day before, so I don’t waste time thinking about what to do first, and that way I can get started as soon as possible”. But this does not always mean sitting at a desk. Going for walks, visiting museums and exhibitions and swimming are some of the ways this Seville-native illustrator and designer draws inspiration.

Yes! When I have some free time I like to go swimming so I can switch off. Quite often I find inspiration when I’m swimming, because it is something that relaxes me but also helps me to recharge my batteries…I try to have everything organised every day. Depending on the projects I am working on, I can spend the day reading a text or a book to be illustrated, making sketches, looking for documentation, painting final illustrations, scanning them and retouching them on the computer. I try not to work more than eight or nine hours at a stretch, and have a break for lunch, but sometimes my workload means that I can sit down at my desk at 9 in the morning and not get up again until 9 in the evening.

How did you get involved in the world of illustration?

I studied Fine Art with the idea of specialising and working in design. In the last year of my degree I discovered illustration and learned that drawing for a living was an option. So, once I finished my degree, I did a Master’s degree in Illustration and Design, which was what led me to ultimately combine the two disciplines. However, I had to start somewhere and I thought that the first thing was to make myself known. The internet provides a lot of opportunities, which is why I created a blog and a website to show the results of my first experiments and forays into the world of illustration. The first orders came in and here I am. I started working every day, since then my work has evolved a lot and I’ve learned a lot, but there is still a long way to go.

What has changed about you and your work since you started?

At first illustration for me was an experiment for me, as well as a search for my own style, for a personal voice which I could open up a niche in the industry with. I’ve learned to perfect my technique a little and modify my style to adapt it to different projects. I have also learned about the most tedious side which is also of vital importance in this profession; the legal side, contracts, rights, payments, the importance of self-promotion, etc. In relation to my work, my style has evolved from delicate drawings with light touches of colour to highly coloured illustrations that are full of detail.

Do you think that living in a city like London, far from your roots, has had an impact on your evolution?

London is a vibrant city with a very enriching and inspiring culture. It is where my style evolved the most, changing from clear lines with large blank areas to light touches of colour in a colourful and detailed style. Visits to the National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain and to numerous varied exhibitions are highly inspiring and have certainly influenced my work. William Morris has also been a great inspiration in terms of patterns and decorative elements inspired by nature.

How would you define art?

Art is a form of communication born of an internal drive and the need for expression.

And how would you define your own work?

I consider myself to be an illustrator, since most of my illustrations tell a story and are useful for a specific purpose, to accompany a text, etc. Although it is also true that sometimes the boundaries are less clear, like when I am working on a personal project, because it is not a response to an external request but instead arises through the need to express ideas in a personal way.

Is it possible to combine design and illustration? How do you do it? What do you think each discipline lends to your work?

Although my work as a designer is more pragmatic in nature, through my work as an illustrator I am able to delve into a more personal aspect. I think of illustration as a discipline that is close to Art, therefore when I illustrate I have greater freedom, and although it responds to the needs of a specific client and project, my personality and style govern the project. Most of the time the disciplines are differentiated in my professional life, but it is true that both are mutually enriching. However, it is difficult, also because having two jobs means that you spend a lot of time on them, including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

What is your main inspiration?

Mostly pre-Renaissance and Renaissance painting, artists such as El Bosco. Also more contemporary artists such as Magritte and Chagall.

How did you discover them?

I was always very attracted to painting from a young age. My parents have a collection of encyclopaedias on the History of Art and when I was a teenager I liked to look at paintings and copy them. Since then I started to research more and to buy art books, and one discovery led to another.

What technique do you use?

I normally use gouache, combined with coloured pencils or pastels for the final touches.

In one of your interviews you mentioned that you often depict the same character. Why is that? Who does it represent? Is there a personal story behind it?

You could say that it is a type of abstraction, since I do not tend to draw anyone in particular, but just a character that is like a fusion, a sort of archetype that encapsulates many different characters.

In the majority of your work you use floral motifs, do they have any special meaning?

Perhaps living in a big city has led to my desire to represent nature, by searching for a connection with it through illustration.

In June you exhibited your collection entitled “Al otro lado” (on the other side) on the Miscelánea website. Your work was described there as a creative response to the need to understand emotions. What is this “other side” that you refer to?

‘Al otro lado’ is based on the idea of the existence of a complementary personal dimension that we may visit frequently or less frequently. For me this space is a refuge which is often depicted as a simple distraction, enough to help us to escape. We can also reach another dimension in a conscious way, in our search to understand the reality that surrounds us. Our relationship with this other side is a journey that we embark on when we’re born and will take all our life; even so it is possible that we will never understand the meaning of what is in store for us. It is therefore a process of growth and understanding ourselves, throughout which facets and essential aspects of our personality that we don’t know about and that are generally hidden in the world we all share can reveal themselves.

In your work, your characters appear to be expressionless, but at the same time they are full of emotion. You are accessing a mystery, them seem to be restless, what are they searching for?

They represent a dreamlike state, the result of contemplation, escapism and reflection. I like the idea that when you observe these characters you can feel like you are looking at an intimate moment involving their connection with themselves, and that this then makes us reflect about ourselves.

What led you to accept the assignment from UIC Barcelona? How did you work on it? What did you want to create?

I thought it was a really interesting assignment since it allowed me to take another look at the classic painters who inspire me so much. Through my interpretation I aimed to create my own personal version of this piece, filtered through my own style. As a tribute.

Five words that define you?

Inquisitive. Persevering. Creative. Intuitive. Strong-willed, or obstinate, depending on how you look at it (laughter).