Tyga Helme is a painter and printmaker with drawing lying at the heart of her practice. She uses the directness and urgency of drawing from life as a springboard for all her work. She explores the feeling of being overwhelmed through her drawing, finding her subjects in the spaces of transition and in the sublime. She couples the spontaneity of the moment with returning to places over and over again, allowing memory and imagination to permeate.


Beatrice Hasell-McCosh interviews Tyga about her influences, working practices, and inspiration behind the body of work included in the exhibtion All These Gestures 

  • Interview

    Interview by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh



    Where are you currently and tell me a bit about your studio practice as well as a little bit of your history and CV!


    I am currently in Wiltshire, where I have been based since March.

    I studied Fine Art and History of Art at Edinburgh, then worked in galleries for a year but realised I missed making work too much so applied to the Royal Drawing School and have been practising ever since. I owe alot to the amazing residencies I have been granted at Vermont Studio Center, USA, Dumfries House in Scotland and Borgo Pignano in Italy. I have been lucky enough to show widely including at the Fleming Collection in London and at Christies in New York and this year I have been overwhelmed at the wonderful abundance of online shows and the growing communities of artists and art lovers.


    Tell me more about the pieces you have included in the exhibition?

    These pieces came out of a teaching residency I did in India with the Royal Drawing School. I spent three months teaching and making work in an industrial town called Modinagar in Uttar Pradesh. I spent a lot of time moving around in the streets and exploring and I would do quick pencil drawings in sketchbooks. I was overwhelmed by the street life and felt a need to record what I could. It felt like note taking and at the time I didn’t know I would want to use them for paintings. They were more about the making of them, about looking and seeing, exploring and responding. It was only after making them that I got really excited to develop some of them into something else. The drawings became the catalyst for the paintings. The drawings were a starting point which jolted my memory for the places and allowed a freedom in exploring colour and composition, to really remember the feel of place.



    How important are the preparatory works in your practice and how much do you do before beginning a larger or more substantial piece?

    These drawings only really became preparatory in hindsight. I try to just draw and draw and have faith the drawing will lead me somewhere. I wish I could say I worked in a more methodical way, but it is through the drawing and the making that I get ideas. I never want to have too much of a clear idea of where a work will end up so I would say that preparatory drawing works are most important to me in that they get me looking and get me excited.


    Was this always a way that you worked or have you come to it more recently?

    I think I have always relied heavily on drawing and the observed moment, something I can hold onto even if the work moves into using more memory or imagination. I just love the constantly surprising relationship between looking and feeling and putting marks on paper. It feels new every time and I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. 


    Whose preparatory works/drawings do you admire or are influenced by?

    Woah where to begin. Rembrandt's ink drawings, Bonnards pencil drawings, Constable's painted sky 'sketches', Marlene Dumas's inks, Ana Mendieta's drawings, Maggi Hambling's drawings.


    We’ve shared a studio together for a year and I definitely felt influenced by your work, who do you feel influenced by?


    It's funny because I am drawn to quiet, still work whereas my work is far from that so I can't really put my finger on what ends up influencing me. I am sure it's a melting pot of tutors and artists I admire, but also writers and of course nature itself.


    So much of your practice is based in dry media, primarily drawing with chalk pastel, what drew you to this way of working?

    There is something intense about using chalk pastel (and inks and watercolours.) Once you put a mark down it is not easily changed or got rid of. It means that every single thing I say on the surface is important. I love the urgency and intensity it gives me when I'm working, that everything hangs on the last mark, that my mind, my heart and my hand have to be fully present at every moment. Though it does require a stamina I don't always have and means there are many disasters that never get to see the light of day.


    You worked part time at Fermoie, did this inspire a different approach to colour?

    I had to think about colour in a more analytical way. I have always relied heavily on intuition when mixing and choosing colour, but suddenly I had to create colour recipes using exact grams of pigments and I had to alter colours in a very methodical way. It has been a huge learning curve, but I think it has only increased my love for the endless and wonderful world of colour and colour combinations. I really want to keep deepening my understanding of colour. 


    You’re based in Palermo for the next month or so, how are you making work there and how has it changed if in any way?

    Sadly I came back from Palermo after two weeks as I was worried about another lockdown. I drew in galleries and in the street in quite a haphazard way until I found a subject I could really get my teeth into and keep returning to and drawing from again and again. The Monte Pellegrino rises up out of the sea and has all the overwhelming nature of a mountain, but also has steep sides, much of which come down into the sea, so it also feels contained and something about that combination along with the changing light and weather really excited me. I’m not sure if anything substantial has changed but a new environment and time alone has helped me get going again after my show last month at the Blue Shop Cottage.