Artist Interview: Hélène Baum

Connecting online through Instagram and the power of the scroll, we interviewed Berlin-based artist and illustrator to learn more about her work, process, and love of colour. 

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We slid into Hélène Baum's direct messages via Instagram to broaden our global connections with women we admire. Luckily, she was gracious enough to satisfy our curiosity about her stunning work.

I see that you are currently based in Berlin but that you’ve lived in many different places around the world. Where did you grow up and where else have you lived?
I was born in Munich, then lived near Frankfurt for a few years. When I was four, we moved to London, where I spent my childhood until 13 years old. At that point we moved to the south of France where I finished school in Séte and did my first year of studying in Montpellier. My design and art degrees were done in Lyon with internships in London and Amsterdam. In 2010, I had started a master but felt the need to work, so I went back to Amsterdam for an internship which turned into a job. After one and half fun years there, I came to Berlin and it’s been five years now.

Whenever possible I try to travel and see new places. The last big trips were to Morocco and Cambodia.

Memphis,  Hélène Baum

Memphis, Hélène Baum

How do you think your global perspective and multicultural background have played a role in your work?
I think it’s helped me to keep an open mind, to try and look at things from multiple point of views and to get interested by a lot of diverse subjects, as opposed to staying fixed on one topic.

It’s also what has led me to dive into this whole mythology/legends theme. Whilst reading these stories, you realize that there are so many overlapping ideas, deities, archetypes, etc. in apparently very different civilizations in the world. I like this idea that we’re all connected on a deeper, primal level and it’s very inspiring.

What drew you to illustration? Has this always been a mode of expression? Would you say your work is more about your personal perspective or your experiences-or both?
I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen. It’s always been my favorite activity and it was clear very early that I would end up doing something artistic.

My work is based on my perspective and experience, I’m not sure you can really dissociate them. Although I don’t translate my experiences in images in a literal way.

Collage plays a large part in your artwork, where does this theme and technique take root from?
I used to make a lot of collage work during my studies. Cutting out images from magazines to make kind of new surreal compositions. I still use this technique now, but in a different way. In a more preparatory way. For example, for the Reconstruction series I made collages but then redrew them in illustrator whilst changing certain shapes, colours and adding textures.

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I also use the term collage in a wider sense in my work and in life: Taking objects, ideas, people or anything really from different cultures or contexts and juxtaposing them in a new space.

What’s your process?
Depending on what the illustration is about, I will decide which way to best materialize it: by hand with watercolor and inks or digitally.

I always need a base image, which can be a pencil drawing or a collage. If I use watercolor, I will make the final image using a Lightbox so as to have no lines and this way I can keep the original drawing. If I use Illustrator, the base image needs to be scanned of course so I can retrace it. I will also digitalize handmade patterns and textures to use as bitmaps in the vector drawings.

Thinking about the colours is the most intensive part.

The theme of our first issue of the Klean is the color red, what does the color mean to you? How does color play a role in your work?
Colour is the most important element of my work and in general. It has a huge impact on me mentally and physically. Vibrant colours make me happy and it’s quite an obsession really.

Red is one of the primary colours, which I use a lot. It’s so rich in intensity but also meaning. It’s the colour of blood, flesh, passion, seduction, life, death and charged with diverse political references. If you want to make a bold or radical statement, red is definitely the best option.

What or who are your main influences?
Traditional art from all over the world, and many recognized or amateur artists.

A few artist who’s work I admire: Wangechi Mutu, Brecht Evans, Ellen Gallagher, Paul Laffoley, and Frida Kahlo.

We connected online via Instagram, what are some other meaningful connections you have made to other women via online platforms? How else do you think the web can be used to create online communities for women? Are you apart of other communities now?
Instagram is great because you can see what other women are living, what interests or moves them. I like to see what we, as women are up to and the beautiful things we create.

Masked Ball,  Hélène Baum

Masked Ball, Hélène Baum

There is a platform called @thewomenwhodraw, which is a directory exclusively for women illustrators, that’s being inclusive in things like geography, origins, skin colour and sexuality. It’s amazing to see how many we are (the number is always growing) and how varied. I recently got approached, thanks to this directory to work on a project also based on women. I can’t really talk about it yet but it was a great experience.

The internet has helped me to find websites or platforms about themes that preoccupy me (for ex. Afropunk). And whilst I’m not an active member as such, it still feels like being connected to like minded people.

One of the major themes that you explore is how children of the diaspora work to piece together their history/histories and they can find power and selfhood from that process. Can you tell me about how you have done this in your own life?
This is a huge topic and difficult to give a straight answer to, as it’s still something I’m working on personally.

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I guess the first step was asking family about as much of our history as possible and then getting acquainted with these different cultures. I now know I have ancestors in South America, the Caribbean, somewhere in subsaharan Africa, France, Germany, Scotland and Switzerland. Which is amazing but also a lot to deal with and still quite vague.

I’ve been watching or reading about everything from black history/histories, various religions or spiritualities, mythologies, to how to take care of my hair type and the problems with cultural appropriation. Also finding answers in music and art.

I think the most important step however was to accept that you don’t and never will fully fit in anywhere and that that’s ok. From there you slowly create your own universe with it’s own logic and rules.

What do you want people, and particularly women, to take away from your illustrations?
That we’re all beautiful and strong beings. Joy and playfulness.

What other creative endeavors are you involved with or interested in pursuing?
I would love to do some collaborative work with other artists who use different mediums. But no concrete ideas for now.

What would you like to see shift in the landscape of digital media and magazines?
I’m not sure I have a good enough overview of everything that’s happening. But definitely more diversity in representation of women and men.

To buy your very own Hélène Baum, check out our KLEAN Shop for an original print!