Although Helen was attracted by arts and crafts from a very early age, she studied to be a chef after leaving school. Only later did she join the Grennan Mill Craft School in Kilkenny, where she trained in the art of textiles, printmaking and ceramics. The result is a twenty-year career as an arts and crafts tutor on the Cork City Vocational Training Committee.
Driven by a growing desire to develop a more personal practice, around the textile arts, she enrolled in 2009 at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork. During a residency in Iceland in 2015, she was impressed by the local population who managed to take advantage of the smallest resource, going so far as transforming the skins of fish into high-end leather. The recovery of waste then was integrated into Helen’s approach to making art. Alarmed by the amount of plastics on beaches, she wanted to draw the attention of the public to the loss of value of these discarded items. By manipulating, shaping, reimagining and creating a new story, the everyday materials are elevated to precious objects, works of art.
Plastic is now central to her work. By the multiplicity of its forms, it offers a large number of possibilities. It is in contact with the plastic object that the idea will germinate, that the technique will develop: collage, sewing, assembly … Each work is an opportunity for O’Shea to experiment with new techniques that reveal stories she wants to express. The used plastics are collected from beaches, some are donations and others are accumulated from daily life in her home.
She then puts them together, giving them organic forms, often inspired by the marine world. Some bottlenecks eroded by sand, wind and water, combined with pieces of thread and lace, give birth to strange marine beings. On the baskets made from plastic bags are also showing the different levels of the ocean floor and flow that inhabits them, thanks to the embroidered patterns. With her work she explores the increasing link that exists between plastic waste and the sea.
Helen O’Shea has now exhibited all over the world, from China to the United States. The exhibition that remains the most outstanding for her is “Discovery Tresor Contemporary Craft Fair” held in Basel (Switzerland) in 2017. This international fair, devoted to contemporary crafts, presented many exchanges and meetings that allowed to the artist to explore and put into perspective her ‘practice of plastic’. New recycling policies are emerging around the world creating new potential for this waste. This highly depreciated material is thus a potential new source of industrial wealth. The ambivalent relationship with the plastic that our society maintains is what the artist wants to explore today.
Rachel Chenu – 2019
(Article in French on Pausart.fr)