Veteran visual artist and National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) legend Helen Lieros, who died on Wednesday at the age of 81, was one of Zimbabwe’s finest painters belonging to a special group of the most enthusiastic teachers of art the nation boasts of.
Born in 1940 in Gweru – Gwelo then – she studied art (visual Arts) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, Switzerland. She excelled in her studies, coming tops in her class exhibition with an unassailable mark of 90% that earned her the certificate et Prix for such an outstanding achievement.
In all her artworks, she strived to be original – being an individual and searching for her true identity. This was the battle in her life and work, whether she was Greek or African. Her father was a Greek sailor, and she was convinced that there was a link in the superstitions accepted as a Greek or as a white African. This was the view that she grappled with in her life as an artist and it reverberated in her artworks.
A visual artist par excellence, Helen had artworks on display (permanent collection) at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Together with her husband Roy Guthrie, they established Gallery Delta a space for visual art exhibitions. The gallery has been very instrumental in nurturing a lot of young visual artists’ talents by giving them space to flaunt their respective aesthetic talents.
Over the years Helen has been offering an alternative space for the exhibition and enjoyment of Zimbabwean visual arts. Many talented artists in the visual arts genre passed through her hands. With an incredible knack for identifying and nurturing artistic talent, Helen continued to be pivotal in doing exactly that. Both established and upcoming visual artists held her with immense reverence in the creative sector, particularly the visual arts genre.
She imparted her invaluable visual arts skills to many artists, assisting them to blossom into top-notch creatives. She saw it all in the visual arts’ growth and development, from being an accomplished aesthetic practitioner herself, coach/mentor in the same field to an arts administrator running a vibrant gallery. Many visual artists are continuously benefiting from her programmes and activities that include mentorship, marketing and the production of original and well-thought-out artistic works.
“With the death of Helen, Zimbabwe has lost an exceptionally talented practitioner and arts administrator who contributed to the growth and development of the visual arts by putting the sector on the world’s artistic map. May her soul Rest In Peace,” Nicholas Moyo, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director.
Helen’ art was collected globally by renowned galleries including the Paris Museum of African Arts, Wilfredo Lam Centre, Havana, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and many others.
In total, she painted about fifteen enormous works in the church which included “The Creation”, “The Nativity”, “The Crucifixion”, “The Entombment of Christ”, “The Dormition of the Holy Mother”, “The Judgement”, “Homage to the Holy Fathers” and concluded in 2002 with “The Pantocrator”.
In 2008 carried out more work on other walls and worked on “The Massacre of Infants”, “The Trial of Christ”, and “The Procession of Soldier Saints” and “The Ephitafios” completed in 2009. The final recall was in 2013 when she executed “The Baptism of Christ”, “Christ Asleep in the Tempest” and “The Healing of the Blind Man”.
Along with her husband Roy, they have been a vital cog in ensuring that the visual arts sector becomes vibrant in Zimbabwe as an integral economic pillar as well as a vehicle for expressive art.
Exceptionally talented both as a practitioner and an arts administrator, Helen belongs to a class of people who will not be missed when the history, growth and development of the visual arts genre in Zimbabwe is put into perspective. Indeed, she played a critical role by putting Zimbabwe’s visual arts sector on the world’s artistic map.
Editorial: This obituary was partly developed from the #NAMALegends @40 citation