“Transforming ideas into a visual Language…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Tone Hellrud
Paul Zimmerman: Textile is your preferred medium. How did you develop interest in it?
Tone Hellerud: My interest in creating something with my hands began early. I grew up in a social democratic school system and thought everyone was equally good.Since then, I have heard that I was more interested in drawing and doing needlework than others. But I also grew up in a creative family.While attending high school, I borrowed a large loom to learn the technique of weaving. After high school I went to Switzerland to learn to weave properly.The thread, the colors, the bindings were so exciting to explore. Eventually, the concept of textile developed for me after studying and taking a master’s degree at the textile institute in Oslo, 1991. When the internet became common in the late 80’s and I learned and saw the connection between weaving and computer technology, it completely took off. I no longer saw any limitations in what was possible to express. Today, for me, textiles are a way of tying together. A way of thinking constructively.
PZ: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
TH: The most challenging thing has been to get hold of projects and to develop or realize ideas.
I cannot and do not have the opportunity to produce large works without an agreement.
It does not stop me from working with art, so the challenge has been to find easier ways to express myself, but it has become a different medium and smaller scale.
From the very beginning, materials and equipment were the challenge. I decided not to depend on it and used the materials I could get my hands on. From the beginning of the 90’s, about 10 years, I used a lot of plexiglass..
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your works?
TH: I think three-dimensionally and the process is construction and repetition. I love the square and I often use it both on a micro and macro level. I often work in series. It can be drawing, sketches, thoughts. The idea can also be developed in the process.
For me, the artistic process is about transforming thoughts and ideas into a visual language.
There is a difference between making a large textile work and a large drawing or painting. When I draw or paint, I have to do everything alone. With the large textiles on the other hand, I have to know what I want and use what I can about materials, bindings and colors and at the same time communicate this with the good helpers.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when your start a new piece?
TH: One often takes the other. If I start all over again, it is often because it is a new theme.
And it’s best to get started when it’s for a specific purpose,
or something I want to find out.
When I get into work, I like to be there and it can happen a lot.
I often get new “genial” ideas and solutions.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
TH: Like I said, I like to be in the process of a work. I spend a lot of time finishing a work. I’m far from an action artist. When all the pieces are in place, I see that it is finished. But I’m not perfect so it happens that I have reuse of previous work.
When I see an earlier work, one I have been distanced from, and I see it works, then I know it is done. It’s a good feeling.
PZ: Have your practice changed over time?
TH: Art is like life. You take the practice with you wherever you go and it develops. I have much of the same line of thinking, but the ideas are expressed in different ways. In the past, my work was much more abstract. Now I have more need to express myself naturally. I have zoomed in and out in a way.
I personally believe that my works are “connected”,” in a red thread”.
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
TH: I admire female artists for their energy and courage. I try to find female role models, but I also admire the work of many male artists. As mentioned earlier, I did not learn art history as a youngster. It was something I first discovered as an adult and art student. I especially like Hanna Ryggen, Louise Bourgeois, Frida Hansen, Synnøve Anker Aurdal, Sheila Hicks, Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono.. And of male artists I will mention Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Roy Lichtenstein, Kjartan Slettemark, Chuck Close…
PZ: How would you define art?
TH: For me, art is about communication in a visual language. Art arises in the meeting between the work itself and the viewer. The meaning of art depends on time and place.
PZ: What are you working on now?
TH: I draw and paint birds realistically. First in smaller format then in larger. I’m now trying to find a method of deconstructing to build in large format. I will take some of the birds to an exhibition in a private gallery in Norway next spring.
The motif was chosen because I think it is needed in time, but also because I am interested in birds, they express so much. There are so many visions and incomprehensible things going on that people need to see something that exists.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
TH: When the pandemic started, I just got assigned an artist residency in Switzerland. I was going to spend time in a large studio exploring a mechanical machine I have from China, which one can make square “sheets” of silk thread. I was going up in format and had a vision to build large textiles. I did not get the materials I needed.That’s when I started drawing birds in large format. I needed it, and enjoyed it.I had to be in that studio for 2 months because I was not allowed to go anywhere except for walks in the woods and fields.I returned to Italy in mid-May. I continued working in quarantine there. As an artist, one is used to working alone. It was quiet.This summer I took the chance and traveled by car through Europe to Norway and back to Italy again. It was an inspiring journey.I notice the lack of freedom during the pandemic and the work is slowing down.