Watching Hélène Baril in action during the month of June, 2011, when we both had the good fortune to be in residence at Arteles in rural Finland, was as entertaining as it was inspirational. The project: to transform the exterior of a graying and nondescript barn into a work of art. Hélène worked long hours, and at the end of each day, tired and pleased in her paint-splotched clothes and skin, she epitomized the artist “immersed.” No metaphor required. One might think that such a large scheme would encourage a “big brush” and a broad, fast stroke, but instead Hélène worked with slow, scrupulous care. Admiring and discussing the gradual rebirth of the barn into a celebration of glowing blue verticals and blazing red foundation became a central (and unifying) social activity among the artists gathered that month. My two hours of writing completed, I would drink and watch her paint.
After I left Arteles and returned to the US, Hélène stayed on and performed a similar magic on the dreary entryway (i.e., shoe and boot room) of the main house, soaring and draping diagonals against a backdrop of—gasp!—pink. She was kind enough to not only e-mail me photos of the job in progress, but named the whimsical and smile-inducing finished product after my novella Octavius the 1st (an honor, to be sure, but also an association only understood in Hélène’s unique, odd, and playful imagination). These projects, keep in mind, offered the artist no profit (that I’m aware of) and no recognition beyond the intimate Arteles family. The experience was all about the joy and the challenge.
Being around Hélène, soaking in her full commitment to a life creating art and celebrating our tenuous world, makes one want to dig in deeper, work harder, and, somehow, take it all more seriously and more humorously at the same time. So, here we have an endlessly innovative Parisian artist, demanding of herself and others, impatient of foolishness, spontaneous, meticulous, brimming with dreams and doubts, neurotic as hell, and—did I mention?—cute as a button. Watch out!