Helena Wurzel celebrates female friendships, raising children, and the changing seasons of New England in paintings that present self-assured subjects going about their days.
Helena Wurzel translates everyday life into Technicolor delight. Even winter-dreary Cambridge thrums with appeal, bare branches slicing through steel-blue skies. In flat swaths of hyped-up color painted with big gestures on oversize canvases, ordinary occurrences—sipping coffee, raking leaves, riding a bike—are anything but banal. “I’m interested in the lives of women, social connections, and the changing seasons,” Wurzel says. “My work is wrapped up in what I see.”
As such, Wurzel, who began making art full time in 2022 after 15 years of teaching it, paints her neighbors, friends, and family. These characters, among which she is one, wear clothing in zippy patterns that pop against the backdrop of Huron Village street corners and Fresh Pond paths. Most are paired with an accessory—an UppaBaby stroller, a Trader Joe’s grocery bag, a dog named Iggy—that acts as a cultural time stamp. Wurzel’s attentive treatment of the landscape, be it very green grass or an autumnal canopy, also helps contextualize the scene. “I aim to capture the moment we live in,” she says.
When she was a new mom, Wurzel’s narratives did not exactly align with her life. She was hesitant to incorporate her children into her work. “Until recently, exploring family relationships was taboo if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist,” Wurzel explains. Soon, however, painting her friends but ignoring her children felt inauthentic. “I realized I could paint my personal narrative in a way that felt universal,” she says. She’s recently given herself an assignment: to paint her kids in every season.
Wurzel’s next project wholeheartedly embraces this outlook. “I’m working on a series called ‘Beaches & Babes,’” she says. “As in, women and babies.”
Walk and Talk, oil on canvas, $15,000, Helenawurzel.com.
First published in the print edition of Boston Home’s Winter 2024 issue, with the headline “Extra-Ordinary.”