Off the back of a 20-year hiatus, Helen Dean brings a fresh perspective to the term ‘emerging artist’ with an impressive repertoire of abstract works crafted in the private downstairs studio of her West Auckland home.

Originally from England, Dean moved to New Zealand in 2003 – a decade later choosing to forgo city life to live amongst the trees. Despite a Bachelor of Fine Arts under her belt, it took a newfound sense of confidence and lack of paintings to brighten up her Titirangi abode for a revival of the tools.
“I realised how much I’d missed the process of creating and didn’t want to stop.”         

Citing nature as her muse, Dean’s surroundings speak volumes throughout her work, as does her fascination between contrasting organic and geometric shapes; “I find myself trying to create a painting that has a balance between these different elements. I think that’s how I know when a painting is finished.”



With a palette striking resemblance to Monet’s renowned water lilies, Dean juxtaposes muted tones of alabaster, azure, moss, and salmon with highly pigmented khaki, umber, and indigo varieties to produce an alluring abstract display. “I often have an idea of a colour palette when I begin but mostly rely on intuition and like the freedom to respond to happy accidents.”



‘Accidents’ which require experimenting with several colour combinations and brushmarks to achieve the final layered effect. Taking acrylic paint to a mix of pure cotton wrap canvas and watercolour paper serves to provide a varied finish, along with the ability to work on several paintings at once without slowing the process to quite literally watch paint dry.  

Earlier paintings line Dean’s studio wall, an ode to past works she uses to inform those in progress. Considerations even go as far as working in both portrait and landscape so that when the balance is right the piece will work in both orientations.



As a self-confessed messy painter, it’s not uncommon to locate screeds of treated sketchbook paper, used to play with colour and composition before designs are translated to a larger scale. Working alone at home allows her the freedom to experiment without feeling self-conscious and create a pile of uncomely paintings in the quest for one that just works. “This is the room where I can make all kinds of mess and no one sees. It feels sort of liberating to just let objects fall towards the floor or to throw paper in the direction of the bin and not care that I miss,” says Dean.  

Harnessing the power of Instagram to share and connect with a community of fellow art lovers, she welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with people locally, feeling true joy in being able to help choose a painting for a space and then hang it in someone’s home.   

The last few years have seen painting commissions, entries to local art shows, and artwork sold to local and overseas buyers. Showing no signs of slowing down, admirers can anticipate an upcoming series of thinner washes in a more limited colour palette.

Watch this space.


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