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Painting With The Mind’s Eye

The Art of Helen Miranda Wilson

by Steve Desroches

A conversation with Helen Miranda Wilson is a fascinating view into the mind of an artist. No romanticism or extemporaneous platitudes, but rather an insight into a pensive specificity where appropriate and a surrender to the creative process when it’s time to work. Wilson’s work is just as enthralling. No easy answers, but with an inviting style that offers no invitation for conflict.

Rather it’s thoughtfully engaging. Yes, pleasing to the eye, but challenging to the brain. Technically precise, but with a sense of expanse beyond the small sized panels she paints on. She’s in control, but releases any pretense that the finished work comes from anything other than that amorphous haze akin to perhaps a runner’s high or a heightened state of meditation. That allows for a connection to the well of creativity and expression within without interference. Like someone who channels a spirit that speaks through the hand with a paintbrush.

Feather (2002,4-7/8 x 4-7/8, oil paint on panel)

“The images come out of whatever’s going on in my life the same way that somebody has dreams about something going on in someone’s life,” says Wilson.

Wilson’s five decades as an artist have produced a body of work breathtaking in scope and in her agility in changing styles or genres of painting. Represented by Bookstein Projects in New York and the Albert Merola Gallery in Provincetown, Wilson continually takes snapshots that quickly develop into intense memories as the subject of her paintings, which came out early in her career as representational and later, the more colorful and abstract pieces of today. In recognition of her artistic work, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) has chosen Wilson as an honoree at their annual benefit gala with a corresponding exhibition of her work alongside other honorees Joe Fiorello and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.

What Remains, for Myron Stout, 1988

Born in Wellfleet to famed writer Edmund Wilson and Elena Mumm Wilson, a descendent of European nobility who studied under Hans Hoffman in Munich, Wilson returned to the place of her birth in 1999 with her late partner Timothy Woodman. At that time she began a life of public service, something she is as well known for on the Outer Cape as her art, having held seats on the zoning board of appeals, the planning board, the housing authority, the shellfish advisory board, and several ad hoc committees tackling housing and environmental issues. She currently serves on the Wellfleet Select Board, on which she has served from 2003 to 2006, and then from 2015 to today.

Also an avid beekeeper who learned to speak Russian, Wilson speaks of interconnectedness to all the issues affecting a community and the region over her years of service. It’s hard to separate it from her work, at least in terms of vision and voice as a holistic quality to her art. While it may seem to some like it was a radical departure when Wilson shifted from landscapes and clear representative pieces to abstractions, to her, they often are the same thing. Whatever the inspiration for the work is, say a sweeping coastal field or an evening sky, those things can still be the subject of her work, even if not apparent to the eye. But it’s clear to the spirit. The change in style was largely motivated by her entrance into public life. Meetings and local government require diligence, focus, and care. It’s being present for the realities of the life of her community. And spending so much time in that world pushed her artistic vision away from the real to the interpretation.

Dappled Sky, 1997

“I lost my appetite for working from life,” says Wilson. “I wanted to get rid of that visual language tool.”

The annual gala event held by PAAM has become a signature event on the Outer Cape celebrating the legendary artistic heritage of the region by honoring not only the art colony’s history, but those currently sustaining the creative community and ensuring its future. Wilson will be in attendance at portions of the gala events, and her work will be on display at PAAM for most of October, not in a retrospective, she adds, but rather as a survey of the work that has made her such a respected member of the arts community here. It’s work for sure, as life as an artist requires a mental vigor and imaginative stamina not many can maintain. Identify it as a calling or a passion or whatever you want, but when something in your work has meaning, it’s a moment of true creation, of bringing something into this world that didn’t exist before and in some way is a document of not just existence, but a record of cultural significance in a unique language.

What Remains, for Myron Stout, 1988

“If you’re doing something that’s meaningful for you as a job, it’s not a job,” says Wilson. “If you are sure of it. If it feels meaningful you can power through the tough parts.”

The exhibition featuring the work of the 2018 PAAM Gala Honorees Helen Miranda Wilson, Joe Fiorello, and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation runs at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., October 5 – 28. A free opening reception will be held on Friday, October 5 at 8 p.m. The 13th Annual Benefit Gala will be at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., followed by the Dance the Night Away after-party at the Bas Relief Park, 106 Bradford St., on Saturday, October 6. Tickets for the gala and after-party are available online at For more information call 508.487.1750.

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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