North Saanich-based painter Helen Rogak grew up in a Finnish farming community located 10 miles outside of Ironwood, Michigan. Her grandparents immigrated to the U.S. after a natural disaster in Finland wiped out their small farm, leaving them near starvation. They never learned to speak English, and it was in this quiet setting that Helen first learned to really see as an artist.
Although Helen has lived on the island since 1967, she still makes frequent trips back to her hometown, which is the inspiration for this latest series of large-scale oil paintings. Helen describes one occasion when she was walking down the streets of Ironwood back in 2012; it was six oclock and, in the light of the setting sun, she realized how deserted the town had become since the days of her youth, in the 40s. Empty buildings, empty streets; instead of people, she saw the proud beauty of the towns aging architecture, built at a time when the community was bustling and rich.
Shown this past summer at Finlandia University, Michigan, in part to showcase Finnish/American contributions to the arts, Helen describes this series as an experiment in painting the power of straight lines. However, its impossible to resist the inherent romance of implied narrative, the poignancy of hope, success and faded grandeur that permeates this series.