Helen Hollemans outside her home near Canillas de Aceituno. SUR
When creativity flows through everything you do

When creativity flows through everything you do


Helen Hollemans admits that since she has moved to Andalucía with her husband Stephan, her inspiration and indeed technique have changed

Jennie Rhodes

Friday, 24 February 2023, 20:59


Helen Hollemans and her husband Stephan have lived in Canillas de Aceituno permanently since July 2022. They bought the house at the end of 2019 having decided that they were going to retire to the south of Spain.

The couple found the property after travelling around Andalucía, when they fell in love with Axarquía. «We wanted space, not a touristy area. This is everything we could have hoped for,» Helen admits.

But then of course Covid hit and they were unable to fulfill their dream until September 2020. For two years they travelled back and forth between their home in The Hague, Holland until they were finally able to make the permanent move.

Helen, 58, is originally from Leeds and spent time in Manchester where she studied Design History.

After leaving university and with her first husband who was an architect she started a design company making lighting from scrap metal. They were even invited to speak at London's V&A museum as part of an exhibition on contemporary design.

However, as the artist explains, «It was the 80s. The UK was in recession, we didn't make any money and that was the trigger for me to think about what else I could do.»

So she found a job with an IT company who soon recognised her abilities and put her on their graduate fast-track management programme. That started a 30-year career in the corporate world. However, Helen says that she didn't leave her creativity behind and in fact she found it helped: «I wasn't your typical engineer or computer scientist. I looked at things differently and that was appreciated.»

The couple later decided to relocate to the Netherlands, which Helen explains was at that time «the centre of European Architecture».

Move to Holland

So, five months pregnant with their first child, the couple relocated. «I wanted my children to be brought up in an international environment. It is a big regret that I wasn't encouraged to learn languages at school in the UK. I loved French but nobody encouraged me to learn it,» Helen reflects.

Helen returned to the world of IT management in Holland and got to travel extensively «to some really bizarre places».

She continued with her ceramics part time and had her own studio. However, when she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis she recalls that «pottery was getting harder. You need a lot of strength to manage the wheel».

So around eight years ago, Stephan suggested she try painting instead and one Christmas he bought her an easel and painting materials. «I really took to it. It was a massive discovery. I had always worked in 3D and acrylics allow me to put 3D elements and texture into my paintings.»

Helen explains that her early influences were her travels. «I think about how I feel when I get to a place, or when I see a sunset in a new place. I also try to look at my work and think about how another person might see it,» Helen describes.

She admits that since she has moved to Andalucía, her inspiration and indeed technique have changed. «I have my inspiration right here. This is where my heart is.»

Helen is holding her first exhibition in Spain at Gallery Art Club Fuengirola from 3 to 29 March. Each of the 10 pieces in the collection has been painted especially for it and the colours of the Axarquía; the blue of the sky, the red of the sunsets and the grey of the mountains as the sun disappears behind them are the themes for this collection.

Helen hasn't completely left her business experience behind either. When she's not painting, exploring the area with her two dogs, gardening or learning Spanish, Helen is also a volunteer with Catchafire, an online platform that connects volunteers with corporate skills and nonprofit organisations around the world who need help with business plans and strategies.

It seems like the couple are here to stay. «I feel lucky and happy. We've even just eaten the first crop of cauliflower's from our garden,» she concludes.

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