Paintings from Tasmania and the Moon
Ileigh Hellier
Backwoods Gallery

Exhibition Catalogue


On the 31st of August, Australia was graced by a powerful full moon – known as a super blue moon – the first since 2009. The term ‘super’ refers to the full moon at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, making the moon 15% brighter than usual. ‘Blue’ is the title given to the second full moon occurring within one calendar month; a rare planetary event. We have had four supermoons this year alone.

At this time, Hellier was in her studio in Nipaluna, immersed in creating a new series of paintings; paintings filled with moons and suns and dancing trees. At a nearby beach, her best friend was watching the super blue moon rise and had a sudden insight: “I bet Ileigh is painting faces on her moons right now”. Georgia had no clear way of knowing this, but she was right. Ileigh had just added, for the first time, subtle washes of eyes, noses and mouths to the glowing orbs within her imagined landscapes. This psychic synchronicity illuminates the heart of Hellier’s painting practice; that the world is alive, and that it paints itself through Hellier, not the other way around.

Hellier’s approach to painting combines deep intuition and clear constraints - the perfect combination to allow free association to alchemise into coherent pictorial worldbuilding. After nearly a decade of dedicated practice, Hellier has developed a unique visual lexicon and a distinct attitude to painting. She does not make preparatory sketches or detailed plans before she approaches the canvas; her paintings are made by following her nose and trusting the work to guide her toward its final form. However, she prepares the stage diligently. She is mindful to not be distracted by the abundance of colours available to her, and restricts her palette at the outset of new works. She prefers the hard, smooth surface of gessoed board over the tacky give of stretched canvas. She paints thinly and through multiple layers, so that there’s room to rework and reveal. Like a good writer, she works routinely and abundantly, so that she can refine and edit from volume. To anyone who has ever tried to make art in this way, they will know intimately the deep self-awareness, diligence, and devotion required to pursue this special type of magic.

And without doubt, Hellier is tapped into something magical, mystical, spiritual, otherworldly. For a long time, even the most subtle nod toward the spiritual in Western art was taboo. In many ways it still is. Contemporary Western painting practice remains replete with realism, fastidious technique, high-concept, identity politics, and the representation of human idiosyncrasies. And yet, bubbling up from within the juggernaut is a renewed interest and investment in the non-human, the imaginative, and the divine. In recent years, there has been a revision and reappraisal of the spiritual in art, in particular, art made by women. Take, for example, the groundbreaking exhibition of Hilma af Klint’s mediumistic paintings at the Guggenheim in 2019. It became the museum's most visited exhibition in its 60 year history - attracting over 600,000 viewers. No one could have anticipated the appetite for af Klint’s art in the 21st century - no one except af Klint herself.

Beginning her voyage into abstract painting as early as 1906 (pre-dating the likes of Kandisnky, Malevich, and Mondrian), af Klint knew she was making art for the future. She was a deeply spiritual woman, channeling energy and direction from ‘the other side’; following a divine guidance which dictated exactly what she would paint. Af Klint was protective of her work during her lifetime, knowing that the world was not yet ready for it, or ready to accept such radical innovation from a woman artist. She went so far as to stipulate that her work not be seen by anyone until 20 years after her death. Klint is one of numerous women artists who, despite their talents and achievements, were all but written out of art history.

But times are changing, and rapidly. Hellier is in direct dialogue with a rich and broad-reaching tradition of artists who are finally being inaugurated into the art history narrative, and who have all communed with something ‘greater’ or ‘outside’ themselves to create their work. At a time when the world feels increasingly surreal, precarious, and dystopian, we need artists like Hellier more than ever. Hellier invites and facilitates an open-mindedness, a vitality, and a channel to realities beyond the everyday; which allow for renewed connection and re-enchantment. Despite rapid technological advancement and assumptions of human intellectual supremacy, Hellier’s work reminds us of the enduring mysteries yet to be uncovered and understood - and it is in this surrender to the unknown that we can begin to imagine new possibilities and alternative futures.

Ileigh Hellier
Blue Moon