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Helen Cass

Linear expression 2022

Blue 2022

Surface edge shadow 2022

Helen works in a process-based way with line, repetition and surface as her central concerns. The materials and actions she uses have some connection to the domestic, agrarian routines and rituals of previous generations of her family as well as to the more universal human need to leave a trace and reveal a truth.  She works by drawing, stitching or folding lines onto or into a surface and is excited by the minutest variations of material and procedure that produce ‘difference’ through repetition.

Mapping of space and marking of time are both important in this series of drawings.  Helen lives on the same land that was worked by four different generations; hence she was looking at old maps of the farm and began researching changing field shapes, different ploughing methods (‘gathering’ and ‘casting’ being two methods of interest) and became fascinated by the folds and refolding of the maps and how it drew her to the potential of 'surface.’   Reading about the archaeology of the area, Helen was fascinated by the dichotomy between the act of ploughing the land both revealing and destroying evidence of previous human activity/settlements, and how some archaeological sites are revealed through changing light and moisture levels in the soil. The seen and the unseen are held in the same surface.

Ploughing is just one of many examples of repetitive work that has always been familiar. Labour that is often overlooked, the evidence of it is transient, made invisible by the insistence of time, by the next layer of activity.  The idea of making a labour intensive drawing process that leaves an image that is barely there, appeals to Helen.


She enjoys using simple, every day materials pen, ink and paper.  In this series a heavy-weight, white drawing paper has been used. Its toughness resists efforts to a certain extent; to tear, score, pierce, stain or fold it, is a very physical process. It has substance; layers can be removed or scratched through its top surface and it retains its structure.  Helen likes its weight and how it opposes the pressure of her hand which equates to marking the earth with a tool. It has a slight texture which affects the quality of the line as the nib travels over the surface. The paper is as important as her hand in producing the line. As well as revealing intentional traces left on the paper, the process of drawing reveals unintentional marks found on the surface of any sheet of paper; it is impossible to conceal mistakes and irregularities.

The accumulation of the lines is time-consuming but meditative. The regularity and rhythm of the drawing allow space and time for reverie.  The activity requires quiet and continual attention but is not difficult (a bit like ploughing a field, proficiency or control is developed over time but anybody could do it, if they had the inclination), therefore the physical attention seems to allow a calm thinking time.

An ink line is drawn along the uppermost edge of the paper, traced from left to right horizontally across the page. This action is then repeated, each time trying to draw a steady, straight line across the surface. A fine mapping nib is dipped into the ink bottle and the line drawn as close to the line before as possible. A quasi-mechanical activity which is doomed to imperfection, but creates a field of frisson/noise/interference that is specifically autobiographic. Therefore the most systematic procedure is not merely pure process – it is actually producing a drawing that is intimately expressive.

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