Helen Amirian is a local musician and one-person band and visual artist. She says: “I am an obscure musician who likes antique machines and modern art. There’s a lot going on with me right now that I am very excited about. I love the smells of bay rum, old books, and scotch tape. Artistically, I think I would be a Dadaist if I weren’t such a control freak.”
You can hear Helen’s music at www.myspace.com/crashandbettyshow
Do you use the word artist, poet, actor, musician, to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, on a music label, etc., or famous?
Yes-all of the above- also, “dynamic frontwoman” and “obscure rock star”. /Hecks, no! I don’t get that many perks. I feel I “deserve” to be better well known than I am, but Portland’s music scene doesn’t seem to have room for anyone who is not anorexic…I am not prepared for that publicity.
And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, actor, or musician? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you?
I have considered myself a musician for the past ten years that I have been performing my songs in bars, cafes, etc. Pretty much when they stopped being about Jesus, and became about me. I only recently began thinking of myself as an artist again (since high school, when I did a lot of master studies that won awards)-when I began obsessively painting the same thing, and not being afraid to display the pieces..a poet, well, that’s more private- I don’t really do spoken word events. But I do occasionally write a good one.
Why is your art important to you? Why do you spend time creating when you could be doing something completely different and no one else would stop you?
I can’t not, in the case of the trees. I really do have to paint them. It is a way to get out my pain, my frustration…when I can’t face going outside, I paint at home. When I feel full of life, I take a canvas out to a café…I used to feel intimidated by the blank canvas, and, even though I know exactly what I am going to do, It is freeing to be able to do it. It has almost become a metaphor for the future, for me.
What does it feel like to create? No, seriously, what does it feel like?
I don’t play by ear. Songwriting is a total crapshoot. If I hear the tune in my head first, I am almost certainly doomed to fail, unless I can reshape it into something I can actually play. I “craft” songs. Whenever I write a new song, it is humbling. I am literally shocked with myself. I honestly don’t know how I did it, and whether I am ever going to be able to do it again. I feel like telling everyone I see, ‘I just finished a song!” I want to play it all day. I don’t really know how to paint or why I can do it all of a sudden. When I finish a particularly evocative or skilled-LOOKING painting, I feel very satisfied. Almost full. I can go without food or needing any kind of approval from others for quite some time. Though I do like to show off.
How long have you been making art?
Visual art…On and off, for my whole life, since I was about three. (27 years)
What kind of art do you make?
I paint the same damn trees, over and over. I saw them in a dream.
What’s your creative process? Do you follow a routine—use certain materials, write on certain days?
No schedule…sometimes I ache to paint them…when I force myself they look forced…I have always used the same brown piece of paper under the canvas…I carry it with me, along with brushes, a plastic palette, a box of small tubes of acrylic, a plastic cup, and a paper towel. This kit fits in any bag I carry.
Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?
Cafes where they leave me alone and I can people-watch…
What kind of support system do you have?
Well, people I know like to ask me how the trees are going, or whether they can have one. That is actually encouraging.
What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?
I don’t know. You either are or you’re not. If it doesn’t burn a hole in you, you need to get out there and start living. Or ask yourself if you’re just trying too hard.
MAKING A LIVING
How do you pay your bills? Do you have a regular full-time job, a few part-time jobs, do you temp?
Collecting unemployment and blowing through my inheritance. No job whatsoever.
How does the way you make a living right now either support or complicate making art?
I have been unemployed for about nine months now…I would say it has helped tremendously. No routine to follow suits me best.
What’s the most important lesson you want to share with an artist about how to make a living?
I have no advice to offer on this matter. I have yet to sell a piece…can’t do it yet. I give away the ones I don’t care so much for, or that don’t go well with the growing collection. My friends all seem to want at least one.
Do you hope to make a living doing your art one day? Or is it not important?
I don’t know…my parents did and were sort of forced to sell out. Too many kids to feed, to paint what they loved, so they resorted to crap that would sell…they suffered…we suffered. Artistic death would be hard to bear. So we’ll see.