AN ARTIST based in Australia whose work is helping her recover from illness is joining Aire Valley Arts group for their next exhibition.

Helen Shearwood, who works in a range of mediums, including watercolour, collage and acrylic, as well as photography, is thrilled to have been welcomed as a temporary member of the group.

The artist, from Fremantle, has a long history of serious illness, including cancer, a bone marrow transplant and debilitating mental health problems.

She had her first exhibition in the UK in September, at Keighley Creative Space.

It came about following a holiday she spent with her aunt, well-known Bingley-based artist Jane Fieldler. “Jane took me to her life drawing studio at Keighley Creative Space and I loved it,” she says. “When I saw the wooden boards resting on the easels, with their layers of paint, scratches, scribbles and masking tape I was captivated.”

She took more than 100 photos, transforming what she saw into abstract art.

Rob, Jane’s husband, printed three of her favourites and Jane taught her how to cut mount boards. “It took me three hours to make those first boards, but I couldn’t have been happier.I named and signed them, and left them with Jane, who planned to hang them.”

To her surprise she received an email from Jane several weeks later asking if she would like to exhibit with her and artist Thomas Shane O’Hara, at the Keighley venue. “

Helen exhibited abstract photography as well as acrylics, and was stunned to sell 12 out of 18 paintings as well as receive two commissions. “I was overcome with excitement when I saw red dots appear beside two pieces, then another…my first exhibition far exceeded my expectations. I was so grateful that Keighley Creative Space gave me this opportunity to share my work.”

Helen began taking close-up abstract photos of ordinary sights like lampposts and rusty, peeling paint in 2017, when she was in hospital for several months.

“After a long period of serious illness, my photography and art played a significant part in my rehabilitation,” she says. “I am delighted to now have been accepted as a temporary member of the Aire Valley Arts group, which means I have the opportunity to exhibit with them while I am in England.”

She has exhibited with them before, at Saltaire’s United Reformed Church and is now preparing for their exhibition at The Bexley Wing in St James’s University Hospital in Leeds. “It feels particularly fitting, given my two battles with cancer,” says Helen.

Her pieces for the exhibition, which runs from November until January, are based on Jane’s palette. “I’ve called the series ‘Perpetual Palette’, says Helen. “I created three large pieces, one made up of photos, one watercolours and one a combination of both. I am, fascinated that my abstract photos look so much like paintings, and layering them together makes me look twice before I can tell the difference.” *35 per cent of sales goes to the charity Leeds Cares.

Helen Mead