Portrait paintings have historically been used to memorialized the rich and powerful. But South African artist Helena Hugo's pastel paintings feature the overlooked classes of society. After working for ten years almost exclusively in oils, she made a transition to the more direct medium of pastel creating highly detailed portraits of people - mostly South African labourers.
Hugo has been a full time artist since graduating from the University of Pretoria in 1996, majoring in painting. She has exhibited both locally as well as internationally in London, Holland, France, America and China. She has been a finalist in various art competitions including the prestigious BP Portrait Awards in London.
She visits factories, farms, and hardware warehouses and spends time among the workers taking photographs of them. Her intricate works go beyond photo-realism. She aims to give the viewer a deeper look into the personality of each person rather than merely capturing every wrinkle in their smile.
She has also started to explore the world of textile art by re-appropriating clothing previously worn and owned by sugar cane cutters into intricate artworks. Through this medium she investigates the comparison between the withering old clothes of the sugar cane cutters and our temporary existence as human beings.
Hugo's portraits capture an essence of what it is to be human and in portraying the working class questions preconceived ideas of status and rules for measuring appearance.