Helen Harkaspi


The Unthought Known

Meetings & Portraits

Self Portraits

Jews In America

Landscapes & Still Lifes




Artist's Statement




Portrait painting is looking and seeing and looking and seeing is inherently risky.

It is never a safe encounter. The painter never knows what aspect of a person will be most engaging and the subject cannot know if the painting will offer a view of the self that is recognizable. Image and self image, identity and mind states are shifting realities. There seems to be no one definitive self or image. The painting of a portrait is a meeting like all new and recurring meetings, an exciting opportunity, a chance to see and be seen, fraught with old hopes and suppositions, historic images, desires and needs. Neither the painter nor the subject can know what the meeting will reveal.

The self is a life’s work, a work of art and artifice, of engaged authenticity and concealed and unrecognized fears and hopes. It is an ephemeral and necessary tool for engaged living and a dangerous and quixotic possession. Salmon Rushdie, in his fable, The Shelter of the World, referred to …”bags of selves, bursting with plurality….” A self, formed as it is in the crucible of culture, religion, and change with the raw materials of power, will, love, sex, and pride it is one of the most interesting games in town.

And it can be a denial of our transitory nature, a denial of death. In a diary excerpt written two days before his death and published in the New Yorker, the writer, Joseph Brodky wrote, “ Identity is a shuck” and he compared himself to a raft plummeting down and coming apart in a wild mountain stream. As a former Buddhist priest, I am focused on the evanescence of the nature and contents of mind. As a psychotherapist and psychotherapy client, I’ve been aware of the power of these elements of mind, their mythic proportions in fantasies and dreams, and their ability to create realities that others don’t share.

It is with these ideas and my pleasure in textures and color that I paint to play in the deep rich tonal satisfactions of falling into worlds that emerge from color and shape. I paint to realize the moment to moment shifting of mind/feeling states and I paint to capture their illusory permanence and resonance. While I paint portraits of actual persons and seem to be “catching something truthful” about who they are and who I am in relationship to them, I experience my paintings as moments on the edge of a somewhere long evaporated.

I am drawn to the juxtaposition of aliveness, incipient fear, and the curiosity of exposing myself and “another” in an image is painted to last on canvas for the time being.
For the time being I do this in portraits…
For the time being I’m fascinated by eyes and mouths…
For the time being the haunting and playful interplay of ephemeral mind states transfixes.....


  second meeting
  Second Meeting