< Back to Journal
Student Perspective: Helen Kohnke MFA 2020
March 31, 2020 · Student Perspectives
I first heard about the New York Studio School from a former Alum, Natasha Wright. At the time I was painting in my bedroom apartment. I was desperate to dive deeper into my studio practice in a supportive community. I’d been looking into MFA programs at the time but hadn’t found one that felt like the right fit. Immediately upon my first visit, I felt a powerful presence. I specifically remember walking through the Guston Studio, which was once inhabited by founding faculty member Philip Guston. I could sense the history and creative energy within the walls, and I knew that this is where I needed to be.
I came here painting landscapes and still lifes from objects I’d collected and photographs I’d taken with my 35mm camera. I began studying with John Newman and Margrit Lewczuk who encouraged me to take risks in the studio and challenge my previous notions of the definition of “good” painting. I started to break my own rules, allowing the process to get more mysterious and uncomfortable. I moved away from the stretched primed surfaces I had previously been working on, and started experimenting with new materials such as scrap wood from the lumber yard. My studio transformed into a sacred place where I could pull the rug out from under myself.
In my time here, I have learned the importance of trusting my intuition in the studio. There is no right or wrong way to do things, it’s just my way. I have tapped into a deeper subconscious and become more intentional with my studio practice. I’m not just grazing the surface anymore or playing it safe, I’m digging deep into myself and pushing my own boundaries. My studio practice is less about perfectly rendering with my paintbrush and more so a metaphor for life – responding to my surroundings with my mind’s eye using the resources and materials at my disposal. There is so much over-stimulation and bombardment in the real world that keeps us from noticing and appreciating the little things. The subtle light that hits the quiet corner of a room, the curious yet familiar curve of a small rock- these are the moments that I cherish and want to bring to life in my art. The mundane can be a meditative microcosm of the cosmos if we just give it our attention.
The New York Studio School has dramatically shifted my perspective and awareness around the artistic practice. On top of my precious time in the Guston Studio, community dialogue has become a crucial aspect of my time here. Without community support, the studio can be a very challenging and lonely place. Walking over to a friend’s studio or asking a facility member for a visit has been so critical to my growth. Even though everyone is working differently we all experience similar questions and challenges.
As I enter my final semester, I hold on to a powerful takeaway from my last Drawing Marathon with Graham Nickson – rather than focusing on arriving at the end result, embrace the adventure. I will continue on that path long after I leave this magical place. And I look forward to becoming a contributing member of this strong alumni community.