Helen Eager

OPY (SM9) 2008
oil on linen
137 x 91cm

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Brief biography

Sydney-based painter Helen Eager was born in 1952. She studied in Adelaide and Berkley, USA, and in 1980 was a recipient of an Australia Council grant to travel and study in Europe, Great Britain and the United States. In 1988, she was awarded the Australia Council's Greene Street residency in New York – an intensive period where the large studio space and time to devote to her practice had a significant impact on the scale of her work. In 1990, she graduated with an MA in Visual Arts from the College of Fine Arts, Sydney. Helen Eager has been exhibiting nationally and internationally since 1975, and is represented in many state and regional art galleries across Australia, as well as in private and corporate collections.

About the works

Known for her lithographic works in the 1970s, Helen Eager has since pursued a painting practice that incorporates simplified forms and pure lyrical colour. The early interior studies led to a particular focus on objects and, more recently, to abstract paintings that comprise geometric shapes and vibrant colour relationships.

The early prints and pastel drawings in the Allens collection have a preoccupation with light as well as a lightness of touch – expressive line drawing and cross-hatching that bring objects and forms into being. The subject matter concentrated on rooms and other interior spaces, such as a sewing basket, a cupboard, the comfort of an armchair – and, in this respect, these early works seem more tentative and demure than the recent paintings, which contrast one strong colour against another, a geometric shape or angle against its background or negative space. But the change of approach was not sudden: The Box, 1986, can be considered a transitional work, a domestic interior, yet already the furniture and objects are depicted as darkened and ghost-like.

If the early works represent a concern with enclosed space – a world encapsulated within homely objects – then by the late 1980s, Eager had not only opened up her frame of reference in terms of the physical scale of her paintings, she simultaneously began to zoom in on particular and minute details, enlarging them so that they took on a more ominous presence. The edge of an object – a lampshade, for instance – now a simplified angle against a blank wall; a cast shadow looms menacingly, yet, it is just a tea cup or jug handle painted much larger and sharper than life; blocks of colour, one in front of the other, hint at an arrangement of furniture and fittings these simple shapes and shadows alluding to empty but memory-filled rooms, such as those works the artist exhibited under the collective title From an old house in America in 1990.

Helen Eager is one of the artists whose work has been acquired since the beginning of the Allens collection. Increasingly, over the three decades represented, it becomes apparent that the artist's fascination with light, colour and scale is an ongoing investigation – the bold colour contrasts that characterise the most recent paintings (the series Angle, 1998, On the Edge, 2000, and Precipice, 2003) have their beginnings in the juxtaposition of forms in large-scale works such as Ceremony, 1988, which, in turn, are an extension of Eager's early investigative studies of domestic settings and the function of objects in everyday life.

Works in the Allens collection

Wild and woolly 1977
lithograph 10/16, 42 x 31cm (unframed), 65 x 52cm (framed)
Artwork: 82.04.HE.P1

Tall 1977
lithograph 4/20, 44 x 33cm (unframed), 66 x 54cm (framed)
Artwork: 389

Scrabble Round Table 1978
lithograph 10/11, 35 x 38cm (unframed), 56 x 59cm (framed)
Artwork: 390

Chair beside itself 1978
lithograph A/P, 45 x 33cm (unframed), 65 x 49cm (framed)
Artwork: 80.06.HE.P

Grande standee 1978
lithograph 1/10, 56 x 32cm (unframed), 80 x 53cm (framed)
Artwork: 82.04.HE.P3

Chandelier 1979
lithograph 13/15, 43.5 x 32.5cm (unframed), 74 x 61cm (framed)
Artwork: 82.12.HE.P

Rocker 1980
woodcut relief 7/10, 49.5 x 30cm (unframed), 67 x 46cm (framed)
Artwork: 81.04.HE.P1

Hall stand and roller skate 1981
pastel on paper, 60 x 35cm (unframed), 80 x 52.5cm (framed)
Artwork: 036

Red room 1981-82
lithograph 3/13, 41 x 32cm (unframed), 64 x 53cm (framed)
Artwork: 82.04.HE.P2

Swivel Chair 1981
pastel on paper, 52 x 43cm (unframed), 73 x 63cm (framed)
Artwork: 086

Howard's socks 1981
pastel on paper, 75 x 54cm (unframed), 95 x 73cm (framed)
Artwork: 087

I and the moment laugh 1982
pastel on paper, 109 x 75cm (unframed), 135 x 99cm (framed)
Artwork: 109

Red Armchair 1982
oilstick on paper, 69 x 55cm (unframed), 86 x 69cm (framed)
Artwork: 119

Sailing 1982
pastel on paper, 122 x 80cm (unframed), 152 x 109cm (framed)
Artwork: 167

Sailing (Time you must cry farewell) 1983
lithograph 10/11, 68 x 52cm (unframed), 90 x 72cm (framed)
Artwork: 83.11.HE.P

Blue shoes 1984
pastel on paper, 109 x 73cm (unframed) x 128 x 93cm (framed)
Artwork: 248

The box 1986
oil on canvas, 167 x 121cm (unframed), 169 x 123cm (framed)
Artwork: 328

Ceremony 1988
oil on canvas, 170 x 270cm
Artwork: 451

Blue shadow 1988
oil on paper on canvas, 122 x 93.5cm (unframed), 124 x 96cm (framed)
Artwork: 473

Snake in the grass 1988
oilstick on paper on canvas, 122 x 92cm (unframed), 124 x 95cm (framed)
Artwork: 474

Chair at Mary's 1988
acrylic wash on paper, 76 x 56cm (unframed), 98 x 77cm (framed)
Artwork: 679

But you can't see me 1990
oilstick on paper on canvas, 153 x 183cm (unframed), 155 x 185cm (framed)
Artwork: 661

NY Transfer, No 8 1991
lithograph 3/11, 29.5 x 39cm (unframed), 54 x 64cm (framed)
Artwork: 747

Angle Manaslu 1998
oil on canvas, 142 x 106cm
Artwork: 917

OPY (SM9) 2008
oil on linen, 137 x 91cm