The Human Condition – The Art of Helen Nottage

by Louise Irvine

The fragility of the human condition is the inspiration behind Helen Nottage’s Dialogue. Her contemporary clay sculptures at WMODA intrigue many visitors and inspire interesting conversations. What secret is the woman whispering to her partner? You need to look inside her body to see her condition.

The discreet conversation is perhaps about the child that she is carrying, which can be glimpsed on close inspection. Helen’s anatomical works often reveal embedded symbols. She is fascinated by notions of fragility, mortality, and decay both in terms of the human body and spirit. The interior of each piece contains a substructure, which is hand-built to echo the human skeletal structure. For instance, there are ribs and vertebrae inside the male figure. Helen’s influences include Professor Gunther Von Hagens whose Bodyworks exhibition explored the interior of the human body.

The torsos are produced from a body cast with a series of press-molded pieces. Helen uses a combination of terracotta and white St. Thomas paper clay to create her figurative sculptures. Color and texture are applied with clay slip prior to the making process.

Fairy tales, myths and folklore also inspire Helen and her macabre Medusa mask with writhing snakes is a sinister presence in our Fantastique exhibition. The rituals of South and Central America have provided some rich source material, notably for her porcelain Day of the Dead skulls.

Helen Nottage was born in 1980 and studied ceramics at the University of Wales Institute and Wolverhampton University where she received a distinction for her MA in Art and Design. While a student, her work was acquired by the Wedgwood Museum following their 2008 New Directions exhibition featuring body adornment. Helen has been a teacher and ceramicist in residence at the New Brewery Arts center in the Cotswolds, which “promotes the joy and fulfillment of making and celebrates the role of craft and creativity in all our lives.”

Read about Medusa

Artist Statement:

“The figurative sculptures I produce emanated from looking at decay in general terms. I have found the parallel in the decay of organic life a useful metaphor to depict the same process in the form of a figure. My commentary surrounds the fragility of existence and the human condition. I have explored this through posture and surface, trying to incorporate layers of meaning” - Helen Nottage