We spoke to sculpture Helaine Blumenfeld, OBE, about her current exhibition at Canary Wharf
Your exhibition LOOKING UP is now on display at Canary Wharf till the end of January – what was your inspiration behind the pieces?
During the year leading up to this exhibition, I have felt increasingly concerned that society is moving towards a precipice caused by isolation, lack of empathy, and a breakdown in trust. All of my newer sculptures were inspired by this awareness.
The exhibition is both warning and antidote. Most of the sculptures in the exhibition are about connections and relationships. This is how we can come out of this — through community, shared values, and acknowledging that we are all human.
We need to transcend the limits of our own perspectives. Intimacy is lacking on a global level. We need to have a profound knowledge of each other to empathise and develop an increased sense of community. Engaging with art can help us. The transformative and regenerative power of art has never been needed more than it is now.
Your sculpture has often been described as uplifting and contemplative – how important do you think that will be for the public who have been able to see the exhibition in the current crisis?
‘Looking up’ is a fundamental concept in my work. All my sculptures are about aspiration, reaching upwards and overcoming difficult moments.
We were able to put the entire exhibition in place just before lockdown — ten monumental pieces outside and thirty in One Canada Square. Although there could not be an opening celebration and the general public were not able to see the exhibition, many people who were still working in Canary Wharf and could see the show. I’ve received dozens of emails during the past few months telling me that my sculptures were a constant source of energy and reassurance. Public sculpture can give people a sense of belonging and mediate the enormity of the difficulties of the world of around them.
One young woman wrote: In this time of deep uncertainty, your sculptures are beautiful signposts guiding me on my inner journey. They give me hope and they make me more connected with myself and others and with something bigger, which I cannot describe yet… I wanted to say ‘Thank you.’
The titles for many of your sculptures evoke humanity, human challenges and aspirations – does the title emerge while you are in the process of creation, or do you have this in mind from the outset?
My sculpture is very intuitive and very emotional, coming from somewhere very direct within me. But when I begin, I have no idea where that is going to take me. Its only when the sculpture is finished that I may also see what it is about and what the title should be.
Your experimentation with different materials, which you often push to their boundaries as in the recent monumental marble sculptures, is an exciting experience for the viewer – how much do your materials influence your creative process?
I always begin by creating a model in clay. I have no idea of what it will become. The sculpture emerges during the process Only when the initial model is finished, do I think about what it should be called or what material to execute it in.
If I feel the model will benefit from evolving slowly, and translucency is important, I will create the model in marble. If I want an exact replica of my model, I will cast it in bronze.
The materials I use help me to complete the creative process, but they do not influence it. Whatever the material I use I want it to encourage the viewer to touch my sculptures and experience the surfaces and contours.
Looking Up: Helaine Blumenfeld at Canary Wharf is a free exhibition in the lobby of One Canada Square and throughout the Canary Wharf estate until Sunday 31 January 2021.