Helen Britton‘s newest work, Devils and Their Friends, has roots in her long time fascination with popular culture and its everyday remains. From her travels to the forests of Thüringen to the recent revisiting of drawings she made in her teens, devils and sprites arise. Sometimes spooky, often comical and harmless, these characters are frequently spotted at the fairground, in cartoons on TV, and on the jewelry rolling out of the trinket automat at the supermarket. Britton rescues these creatures from the dank and mossy worlds they come from, capturing a bit of their essence before they slip back under the surface and head on their merry way.
Helen Britton is one of the most influential and eloquent artists working in contemporary jewelry today. Originally from Western Australia where she received her Master of Fine Arts from Curtin University, she currently works and lives in Munich, Germany. Since completing her postgraduate study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich her work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world. Public collections include: The National Gallery of Australia; Pinakothek der Modern, Munich; the Schmuck Museum Pforzheim; The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Boston Museum of Fine Art; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A recipient of the distinguished Herbert Hofmann Prize, she has also been awarded The State Prize of Bavaria and most recently the Förder Preis of the city of Munich. In 2013, at the invitation of the International Design Museum, Munich, an overview of the past twenty years of her work was presented in a solo exhibition at the Neues Museum in Nürnberg.
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Dekorationswut, 2009. photo: Eva Jünger
Forest, 2010. photo: Helen Britton
Umheimlich (Ghost Train), 2014. photo: Helen Britton
Devils and Their Friends
If I think about when this work started, then of course I quickly land in the forests of Thüringen and the first of the Devil ring series in 2007. But then that work really stared with visits to that region in 2001. Recently I unearthed a stack of drawings from my late teen and early twenties: wild pigs, black dogs, old cars and headless horsemen. Clearly the things that attracted me to the Forest were not something new.
There was always a dark side, an interest in spooky things, and the obsession with Ghost trains is now common knowledge. But they were also comical, harmless and popular things, things that made their appearances not only at fairgrounds, but also in cartoons on TV or in the jewellery that rolled out of the trinket automat at the supermarket. Popular culture and the everyday remains the baseline in much of my work.
The characters in this series inhabit an imaginary world that has its roots in the Forest  work, Unheimlich and these early drawings. Smooth Devil, Stone Devil, Wood Devil, Dough Devil, Fire Devil, Eel, Water Sprite, Millipede, Swine and Old Tree. These characters have broken through to the surface of this deep old river of preoccupation, crept out of their dank and mossy worlds and I have captured their likeness before they slip back under the surface and head on their merry way.
Helen Britton 2015
Imagine this. You catch a train, change trains, change again, and once more change into a very small train with a single carriage. The train rolls on and upwards, ever-darker forests, striped of all deciduous trees so the fast growing pines can fire the furnaces. The valleys are steeper, darker, even the houses are black and shiny in their snake like slate skins. You are now deep in the middle mountains of Germany. Freezing, isolated, mysterious, unheimlich. Here they make glass: glass animals, glass decorations for trees, glass eyes. In this place there is a mixture of a natural and constructed environment so intimately entwined that there is no possibility to discern any seams between the two. This counts not only for the things that are made here, but also for the forest itself.
Draw the animals, draw the atmosphere, draw the devils into the rings with a graver, set their eyes with precious stones. Have the horse made and the wolf, the raven and the bird, set them too with diamonds and send them galloping back into the world. House/universe, Heimlich/Unheimlich, territory/ deteritorialization, the small and the large refrain. It’s all contained within. — Helen Britton 2010
 Unheimlich: The Ghost Train
When I was growing up in Australia there was the yearly Show. In fact there still is. Everyone comes to town to show their best animal, their best vegetable and the best thing they can bake, pickle, or preserve. There are show bags to be had, wonders to be seen; shearing, wood chopping, dogs with wild hairdos. A fabulous spectacle connecting the country to the city.
Then there is Side Show alley. Fun rides, shooting parlours, mangy, bad tempered ponies that children can ride at their own risk. It’s a seedy scene, with rumours of sex and violence, of transient livelihoods; jailbirds and petty criminals, the underbelly. Nestled in amongst all this are The Ghost Trains.
As a small child, in a state of fear and excitement, I would avert my eyes when walking past a Ghost Train. A glimpse was enough. I was also of the firm belief that the disused railway sheds on the other side of the swamp where I grew up were haunted and that even touching the walls of these buildings with a piece of wood would lead to certain death. The fear was genuine, but so was the fascination. Carefully kept trinkets from that distant past have become symbols of a primal contradiction. The allure of the unknown and ultimately unknowable.— Helen Britton 2014