Truro painter and school nurse Helen Grimm says her connection to the Outer Cape environment helps keep her grounded.By Joseph Porcari
Helen Grimm’s studio, connected to the kitchen, is a hub of family life and anything but an oasis of solitude. A corner of the space functions as a laundry room, the cement floor provides a skateboard surface for her son and there’s a wall of shelves filled with household tools and surplus pots and pans. Nonetheless, the Truro painter projects an aura of serenity, illuminated by a radiant smile and punctuated by occasional bursts of self-deprecating laughter.
If there’s a secret to Grimm’s serenity, it would be her ability to balance the roles of wife, mother of twin teenagers, Truro school nurse, herbalist, organic gardener and artist. Her connection to the Outer Cape environment helps keep her grounded and more centered.
“The water, sand and salt scrub my brain free of day-to-day stresses,” says Grimm, adding that her family loves the wild stretches of open space. “We especially enjoy hiking through the woods of Truro to the cliffs high above the ocean,” she says. “We love the water—high tide, low tide, ocean, bay, marsh and pond, and foraging for wild food, clamming, gathering oysters, blueberries and cranberries.”
With a dual B.A. and B.F.A. in art history and painting from Cornell University, Grimm credits artists as diverse as Giotto (“for the emotion he conveyed with the simplest of lines and forms”) and Richard Diebenkorn (“for his abstracted landscapes of the ’50s”) as major influences. After a few years living as a “starving artist” in the Bay area, Grimm’s interest in herbal medicine and desire for a more secure career motivated her to pursue a B.S. degree in nursing. By choosing this path, it helped enrich her life without taking a permanent detour from art.
When her twins were 2, she reintegrated painting into her daily routine. “Life will pull you in any direction we let it,” says Grimm. “It is easy to fall into circumstance. Painting is my chance to do what I love and to express myself and to create a view of life as I see it. The process has taught me to take charge when I need to.”
Grimm’s oil paintings on canvas, infused with the colors of sky, dunes, grasses and lichen, engage the viewer with bold calligraphic lines. They emit an energy generated by the push and pull between abstraction and representation. Grimm cites mollusks—and especially clams and oysters—as a source of inspiration and subject matter. She is fascinated by the microcosms within a seashell and sees them as landscapes in miniature. Shells are a vehicle for exploring line, shape and texture and she is attracted by their contradictions: They are humble, yet polished and jewel-like. “The abstracted shells remind me of looking underwater. You aren’t quite sure what you are seeing, but you feel its essence. Their color and form thrill me, and always have. They are my muses.”
Grimm’s balanced life is channeled into her paintings and there’s a good feeling to them. “Helen’s work makes me happy, plain and simple,” says patron Jeffrey McCullough. “And that is reason enough to look at a painting over and over.”
“Intertidal,” a show of Helen Grimm’s latest paintings, will be on display through August 9 at Four Eleven Gallery, 411 Commercial St., Provincetown.