Echoes of Existence - Helen Acklam: colourful, charismatic paintings and sculptured craftwork

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The Home where I shall Dwell
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Helen Acklam

Helen Acklam, originally from Yorkshirestudied at the University of Cumbria and now lives in South West Scotland.  As a mixed media artist, she explores aspects of form, texture, surface and colour on a theme covering architecture, landscape, history and myth.  

This exhibition, ‘Echoes of Existence’ presents a diverse collection of quirky, colourful illustrations of traditional crofts, cottages, bothies and shielings located around the Outer Hebrides, Yorkshire and Shetland.  Helen was recently Artist in Residence for a month at the Weaving Shed, Hillswick in the north of Shetland, where islanders were keen to show Helen where to find tumbledown, neglected buildings sadly left to wrack and ruin. 

To capture the cultural heritage of these dilapidated homes, she adds a collage of original scraps of wallpaper, salvaged from derelict farm cottages. Titles are often borrowed from lines of poetry such as The Home where I shall Dwell (see photograph above) which features a faint layer of pink floral wallpaper akin to rambling roses covering the exterior wall; it's almost as if the pattern has spread through as a ghostly image from the cosy parlour inside. 

To evoke the island coastline, the canvas is often sprinkled with grains of sand to create the texture of the local natural environment.  Corrugated iron roofs are cleverly crafted too with strips of cardboard such as Blue with flowers and yellow – these bold, graphic Mary Quant Flower Power orange petals perhaps date the wallpaper to the 1960s. 

Travel south to the Yorkshire Dales where And the Dawn-lit Grass light is shining presents another impressionistic rural landscape of a row of farm buildings under a cool, clear sky in the early morning.   Here, the end wall is covered with a page from a local church magazine from 1921 an advert for corn meal and poultry, while a palette of soft blues and greens sweep over the sky, grass, woodland and fields. 

As well as numerous paintings, a selection of multi-media sculptures are based on the history and personal stories of the Hebridean islands.  On beachcombing walks, Helen collects drift wood, sheep wool, textiles, found objects and materials. Murranach reflects the life of Angus McPhee who went off to War but was later incarcerated in an asylum on return home, where he spent his time weaving grasses and vegetation to create his own craftwork. 

When the lights went out is presented in an old printer’s tray, filled with images and memorabilia such as a collection of tiny vintage keys symbolic of the 19th century Clearances. The title is based on the ever-burning fires which kept the crofts warm, which were doused out when the people were evicted.

With a light sketchy technique, the ancient crofts, often with lamplight shining through tiny windows can seem to represent eyes as if the homes are  humming with human life.   These are enchanting often comical illustrations which would be ideal for children’s picture books and traditional fairy tales.  

Hebridean seascapes and picturesque crofts have always had a perennial, worldwide appeal, perhaps due to nostalgia, family ancestry, a favourite destination, and simply the timeless, scenic beauty of the Scottish landscape.  With scraps of vintage home décor, slices of driftwood, a handful of sand and bunch of machair grass, these charistmatic caricatures of derelict, deserted homes recall the generations of families who lived here behind these square windows and under these tiled roofs. 

Helen Acklam brings a unique, vivid, vibrant colourist expression to Scottish island life, past and present: This showcase, aptly titled Echoes of Existence presents a haunting, authentic vision and charismatic humour and imagination, there’s such a tangible, emotional sense of place and heritage. 

Helen Acklam exhibits widely, from the Borders Art Fair to Spring Fling, Dumfries and Galloway.  Following her successful residency, a forthcoming show is being planned at the Shetland Museum, Lerwick. 

Show times:

Dundas Street Gallery,  6 Dundas St, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

Helen E Acklam – Echoes of Existence, a solo exhibition 

11th – 14th April, 2024 – 10am to 5pm.