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Paint smudge

Helen Elizabeth Kuumbi MA, Artist and folk musician

Playing with paint and strings 

Contemporary landscape painting and other forms of experimentation

My work accompanies my exploration of landscapes, rivers and seas.  I look at how the landscapes we perceive as natural and wild spaces have been shaped through time by people. I explore what it is to be in present in that space, the sublimity of nature, the echoes of its past and how we connect with them today. Common themes are ancient monuments and woodlands and I work mostly in oil, but also acrylic, natural inks and mixed media.

 In my artwork I experiment with aspects of the painting process; such as patterns, exploring different colour strategies and the way we perceive colour and how the process can become part of the narrative of the artwork. In some of my work, such as my recent seascape series, this enables a narrow subject focus, i.e. the water’s surface, to be a means for exploring and experimenting with pattern, colour and other elements.

Although I dabbled in painting throughout my childhood and on rare occasions, my education and work took me down other paths (in mental health/ disability support) and music always remained a key part of my life. In 2017 I started painting in my bedroom, and tentatively exhibited my work. In 2019 I had my first solo show, which motivated me learn and share more. It was around this point that restructuring/funding changes meant I could no longer work freelance in my previous role, so I had the space to consider my next steps and chose to focus on playing music and developing my art practice.

When the pandemic hit, my income through live music took a nose dive but I was fortunate enough to be offered a role at Awenek in delivering community arts, during this time I also deep-dived into self-study, switched my choice of mediums to oils and painted, painted, painted


I see me becoming an artist, a term I still find difficult to identify with, really as an act of self-preservation. In my earlier working life, I had put so much of my heart, soul and energy into  other people’s lives  but I kept getting broken,  not seeing a way to move forward.


When I am playing or painting, the experience is so present you just move and feel and there is nothing else, and yet when I look up and I see I make people happy.

Themes:  solitary experience of the natural landscape, moments of transcendence ,  sense of the sublime, the vastness of history, the smallness of our lives, the beauty of nature, the weight of a moment, the process of  memories and the subconscious in expressive creativity

Hele Elizabeth Kuumbi playing double bass
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