Mia Gjerdrum Helgesen: Memory in the Abstract

­­Maureen Flynn--

When Willem de Kooning once spoke of "slippery glimpses", he was not so much referring to the search for the ineffable in art but, rather, of the subtle revelations that come about at the twist of a wrist in the process of painting, the mysteries of technique. Surely Mia Gjerdrum Helgesen, a painter widely exhibited in her native Norway, as well as in the United States, must know what he meant. Helgesen, whose most recent exhibition was seen at Agora Gallery 530 West 25th Street, speaks of how gratifying it has been "finding my way of expressing myself through this rough way of painting", although her technique of lay down strokes of luminous color with a palette knife is "anything but rough."
For while she speaks of finding "the strength and the will to Œkill your darlings," by which she means"not being satisfied with what you did yesterday, but stretching further" her approach is characterized by a unique panache which enables her to catch fleeting impressions that slip effortlessly between the actual and the abstract . "I am inspired by the changing seasons in Norway, the feeling of blooming summer, the birth of spring and the cold snow falling down on my face", she states, yet the way in which she makes these subtle responses to nature and personal feelings palpable in acrylics on canvas or linen has everything to do with process. Shimmering visions of an idyllic childhood with specific memories of outings in a family sailboat, of the flowing waves along the Norwegian coast and other fondly remembered details inform her strokes. Yet her compositions take on an abstract autonomy all their own, as she layers luminous hues­­translucent blues, greens, and yellows heightened by strident bursts of red­­in a manner that evokes an overall sense of emotional exuberance rather than specific appearances.
While one can indeed discern "slippery glimpses" of a tree or a reflective body of water or any number of other things amid her abstract forms, these things have a way of disappearing back into the overall thrust of the composition almost as quickly as they appear. Phantom presences at best, they inhabit the composition like fugitive memories, subtexts to the sense of immediacy that Helgesen generates through her dazzling painterly proficiency.
Experience, in other words, seems embedded in the material substance of pigment, rather than merely being illustrated, in Helgesen's paintings, with their succulent surfaces and elusive shapes, which appear to shift before one's eyes. The effectiveness of her compositions has much to do with her method of color construction, which seems to meld an underlying organizational principle adopted from Cubism with the emotional charge of Expressionism in a highly harmonious synthesis.
However, the intuitive nature of Mia Gjerdrum Helgesen's inspiration seems inherent in the title that she gave to her exhibition, "Pathway to Reverie". For while there are hints of specific imagery in paintings such as "Bay" and "Central Park", and an effusive sense of nature is evident everywhere in her oeuvre, the title that best expresses her overall intention is "Joy". Indeed, the word is aptly applied to this splendiferous acrylic on linen, in which glimpses of a shimmering lake, sinuous tree trunks, and autumnal foliage flicker amid vigorously evoked abstract forms.