Pieces of me: Helen Steele, artist, fashion designer and printmaker
Helen Steele’s art, clothes and Monaghan home are all influenced by colour theory, graffiti art and the ‘joie de vivre of colour’
Living colour: Helen Steele in her studio, a converted duck hatchery, in Emyvale, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
‘Untitled’ by Brendan McCarey, in the collection of artist Helen Steele. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Detail of ‘OZ’ by Helen Steele. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
An artist, fashion designer and printmaker working out of a converted duck hatchery in Co Monaghan, Helen Steele is known for her exuberant and playful use of colour, whether on dresses, kaftans, bomber jackets and turbans, or on her canvasses.
Her artwork has been exhibited in the US, China and the Middle East. She collaborated with Irish designer Joanne Hynes on the fashion-art project Les Guerriers at London Fashion Week in 2011 and launched her own printed collection of wearable art in London and Paris in 2012.
Clients include Diane von Fürstenberg, actor Donald Sutherland, supermodel Helen Christensen and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. In 2014 she won Irish Designer of the Year at Kerry Fashion Week, took home the ‘Irish Tatler’ Woman of the Year (fashion) award and was appointed Intertrade Ireland Business Ambassador.
Describe your style
Like my clothes, my house is covered in paint splashes and colour. My work is heavily based on colour theory, and the joie de vivre of colour affects both painting and style. Colour has such power. I dress for myself, for comfort and in what cheers me up, and I apply the exact same standards to interior design.
What room in your home do you most enjoy?
The white room. It’s the only room in the house untainted by paint. The sun hits the room in the afternoon and it has a beautiful view of drumlins and lake. It is a hotbed of inspiration. I created three prints from my spring-summer collection in this room. It is also where myself and the kids put our Christmas tree and where our eldest had her debs photos taken with her boyfriend and grandparents, so there are lots of lovely memories in this room.
Describe your studio
It is full of paint, chainsaws, forklifts, leaf blowers, spray guns, pellet guns and cherry pickers. I also use duck feathers to paint. I wear a Chicago County Jail orange jumpsuit when I paint – I got it in Hancock Tower in Boston.
What items do you love most?
I have to say that a painted chair covered in enamel is one of, if not the favourite thing I possess, and a lovely old mahogany dining table that was a wedding gift from my in-laws (and which I recently covered with painted canvas to stop the cat scratching it).
I also love a Brendan McCarey illustration of the smokestacks in Ringsend and a painting of mine called OZ that sits in the kitchen. I pass it every day and see something different in it each time. And a painting by Hugh McCarthy called Fluffy Clouds: he’s a painter who spent a lot of time in Spain in the early 2000s, and his work is informed by Spanish graphic art and graffiti. And really crazy comfortable couches from Woodlands Furniture in Monaghan.
Who are your favourite designers? Do you own any of their work?
I love the copper strand lamps of Andrew Clancy, an Irish designer who lives in Denmark whom I met at the Global Irish Forum in Dublin Castle, but I don’t own any of his pieces yet. I also really like Ceadogán rugs and would love to own one of the Helen Cody rugs from the collaboration between the two. And there is a brilliant lighting design collective called Mullan Lighting outside Emyvale which has beautiful pendants, and I also love the furniture in CA Design on Dunville Avenue, in Ranelagh. When I was younger I used to steal my mother’s and my aunt’s John Rocha and Michael Mortell clothes, which gave me a desire to study fashion.
Which artists do you admire?
I think Diana Copperwhite is an exceptional artist and I love her use of colour. I am also drawn to the work of Stephen McKenna, one of the greatest living Irish artists, because of his elegant use of colour and light and dedication to his art. And I have more recently found the work of graffiti artists Maser and Rask inspirational for my work. I also think Grayson Perry’s alter egos are fantastic.
What is your biggest interiors turn off?
Flashy furs used as throws over couches, and embellishment on furniture. Anything that is not comfortable; even if the cat has torn the leather off our chairs, they are still comfortable.
Which travel destination stands out?
The Maldives. Most beautiful place on earth, and you don’t have to wear shoes.
If you had €100,000 to spend on anything for the home, what would you buy?
I would build a new studio that is not freezing cold, and attach it to my home. I would also love to create a print interiors collection of wallpaper and curtains from my own artwork. With the rest of the money I would put up more homeless shelters throughout Dublin city.