Helen Sturm ’20

Helen Sturm’s studio space in Davidson’s Visual Art Center. Courtesy of Helen Sturm.

I have a difficult time calling myself an Artist, mainly because of my lack of formal training. I am an Art History major with an Anthropology minor, and I didn’t take a studio art class until my junior fall, when I enrolled in Basic Painting with Professor Katie St. Clair. I was hesitant to even declare a major in Art History simply because it required at least two introductory studio art classes. The only reason I ultimately decided to pursue the major was because I thought my good grades in Art History classes would balance out my not-so-good grades in the studio. 

The first day of painting class, I left crying and overwhelmed. Not only were the concepts of color charts, spatial relationships, and form construction completely foreign to me, but I had never held a paintbrush in my life. It took a lot of mental effort for me to continue with the class, and I lacked confidence for the first part of the semester. However, by the mid-term, I began to see my work in the studio as an extension of my previous coursework in Art History. I began to think of my own work in the context of modernist painters such as Oskar Kokoschka and Edvard Munch and expressionists such as Gerhard Richter, Francis Bacon, and Lee Krasner. 

In an effort to further connect my studio work to my study of Art History, I began printing out paintings I was particularly drawn to and deconstructing how they were made. Because of my work in painting class, I could actually understand the marks, intentional color choices, textures, and layering behind each piece. Instead of just being an artifact to analyze and critique, it became a living piece of art. I felt instantly connected to the artist, and in a way, I saw myself as part of a long tradition of artists who have looked to their artistic inspirations to create. 

Today, my studio space is a working medium between my historical art knowledge and my artistic practice, which has now expanded to both painting and printmaking. The most important aspects of my work are my historical influences, which are seen pasted on my wall, in combination with works from contemporary artists such as Petra Cortright and Annie Lapin, both based in Los Angeles, CA. Having this kind of constant source of influence and inspiration has become the most significant part of my practice, as I always need to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of my subject. 

As of now, I am creating an entire series of large-scale paintings based on the cinematography and stills from classic horror and thriller films, such as Suspiria, Psycho, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. To this day I still hesitate to call myself an Artist, since I am not a studio major and have only participated in a few mediums here at Davidson. 

However, I do think that the practice of art has completely altered my point of view on the world, and it taught me that I might be good at things I never thought possible. Even if I am not an artist now, I want to put in the time, dedication, and creative energy in order to make it possible as soon as I can. 

Helen Sturm is an Art History major and an Anthropology minor from Brunswick, Maine. She can be reached for comment at hesturm@davidson.edu