From street art to neat art: what made Helen Proctor give up the spray can for the paint brush?

It’s common for artists to change genres. You’ve got Fleetwood Mac who went from blues to rock, The Beastie Boys from punk to rap, and many more. For visual artists, this stylistic switcheroo is far less common.

Sydney based artist, Helen Proctor, is one creative who pulled it off. She started out doing street art as her alter ego, Syke, and then did a 180 turn and started focusing on landscape paintings. We’ve asked Helen about her journey as an artist, her inspirations and her plans for the future.

helen proctor happy mag

From street art to neat art: how did Helen Proctor say goodbye to the inner graffiti artist and embrace her low-poly landscapes?

HAPPY: Hi Helen, how are you today?

HELEN: I’m good, it’s been a chilled Sydney Sunday and I just checked out White Rabbit Gallery.

HAPPY: What inspired you to become an artist?

HELEN: I’ve always kept up an art practice on the side of whatever I have been doing. After a while I’ve realised art was the only thing that had kept my interest consistently over the years, so I quit my job as a teacher and I’ve thrown everything into my art practice.

HAPPY: Do you take inspiration from places you travel to?

HELEN: I only paint locations that I have developed a connection with, I’ll usually make sketches whilst I’m there or work from photographs that I have taken. It’s important for me to associate an emotion with the place, otherwise I don’t feel connected to the artwork.

HAPPY: Is there any connection between your landscape paintings and your street art?

HELEN: I’ve been creating street art in a range of different mediums for the last 15 years, this originally stemmed from my interest in graffiti culture whilst I was growing up. It was kind of inevitable that whatever the subject matter of my new work I would embrace the idea of putting it on the street. When I was developing my new paintings I worked on cheap paper which reduced the pressure when trying out new ideas. The things that worked I would paste up around the neighbourhood. This was also a great way of getting feedback.

HAPPY: Do you still pursue street art?

HELEN: I’ve created a couple of large-scale murals recently which has been great, I enjoy working in public spaces and on a large scale. As for running around late at night with a spraycan or a bucket of wheat paste, it’s hard to find the motivation sometimes when the alternative option is red wine and Game of Thrones… I guess I’m getting old.


HAPPY: What would you say is the main difference between visual art and street art?

HELEN: There aren’t any rules with street art. There aren’t concerns of who might buy the work, the only pressure comes from the idea that hundreds of people might see it. It’s a great way of reaching a range of audiences, people that might not step into an art gallery or be involved in the art world. Street art is also ephemeral, which allows artists to create more work and try different ideas.

HAPPY: Are you trying to bring across a certain message?

HELEN: I don’t think I’m trying to send a message, I guess I’m just sharing my experiences and trying to depict my connection to Australia. And I hope the audience is reminded of their own connection to this country.


HAPPY: What does it mean for you, personally, to be an artist in 2017?

HELEN: For me, it’s carrying on the tradition of painting in an art world where there are no restrictions on mediums, new forms of art come out every day. I guess I’m trying to figure out where I fit in the art world of 2017.

HAPPY: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become an artist?

HELEN: Put in twice the amount of work you would in any other profession. Treat it as a professional job. And have the confidence that hard work is going to pay off.

HAPPY: And last, what have you got planned next?

HELEN: I have an exhibition at Goodspace Gallery on the 26th of April. This will be my last for sometime. I’m about to embark on a six month adventure around Europe and settle down over there for a couple of years.

helen proctor breathe goodspace gallery 26 april