Thursday, October 15, 2015


I started my painting career very late in life, however I commenced to work as an artist very early in life. As a child I made objects all of the time. Anything from arranging stones in patterns, collecting feathers, wire, old tins, string or cotton to make into wall hangings. I had no decent paper, pens or pencils so I collected charcoal from the burnt out fire and used it to draw on the outside walls of my parents' house. 

 I learned to sew when my legs were long enough to peddle the sewing machine and in my early teens earned money by making hats and jewellery. 

 All my life I have been a maker. The first thought I have every morning is ‘what will I make today.’ The last thought in the evening is to look at the day’s effort and say 'I didn’t have you this morning’. 

 At 14 years of age, I was refused any opportunity to study art or continue at high school. I was sent to Flinders Lane in Melbourne to train as a dressmaker. My employers thought I had sufficient talent to become a designer and sent me to RMIT to learn fashion drawing and pattern making.

Fashion was a new word to me, as my mother and aunts wore ‘clothes’ and usually the same ones for years.  When I turned up on my first day at the workroom, I had no more than an old blouse of my mothers, which was worn out under the arms, a recycled skirt and school shoes. By the time I had finished training I was one of the smartest dressers in Melbourne. State Gallery Director, writer, critic- Patrick McCaughey once remarked ‘Helen you are so glamorous’. My reply was ‘But it is part of my job as a fashion designer'. From my late teens I worked as a designer and became very interested in modern art, I admired the French artist Sonia Delaunay and liked the idea that art and fashion could generate projects together. 

As a sophisticated young woman in my early twenties, I was already making a name for myself as a designer. I dreamed of going to Paris, an ambition that was interrupted by forming a difficult relationship with the young Australian artist Leonard French. 
 I then spent the next twenty two years as his partner and have had an intense involvement in the Australian art world ever since. Although my career as a fashion designer was continually interrupted by this involvement, I constantly produced art pieces, particularly wall hangings, fabric collage, patchwork and fashion jewellery. 

 During my time of confinement to home duties and the birth of my three children, I commenced my applique projects and when the family was living in London in 1962 undertook classes at the London Institute of Art. Two years later the family spent a year in New Haven Connecticut USA.  

 At Yale University I was involved in a program of lectures on Art and Architecture run by Vincent Scully (Author and Emeritus Professor of the History of Art) and took part in several painting workshops in New Haven where my work was exhibited. travelled regularly to New York for exhibitions and to visit renowned art galleries.  

 Returning to Melbourne, Australia, my production and design skills led to a successful career as fashion designer with my own label ''French'. My boutique and atelier attracted South Yarra and Toorak clients and I became a celebrity figure in the fashion and art world. I have had a consistent and bountiful involvement in the production of textiles, jewellery, wall hangings and garments, which were sold through my business.
I always say that I made clothes for ‘the rich and famous’ and hung out with my artist friends -  ‘the poor and famous.’ 

I divorced Leonard French in 1974. 

I later wrote a memoir about that period of my life. I have not found a suitable publisher and I’m not considering self – publishing.  In it I write the inside story about living with your not- so- average- sort of bloke, while maintaining my own creative output in a male dominated world and the challenges of the relationship of two highly creative people with many visual resources.  

 1974-1995 I faced many challenges in my life. One was expanding my career as a woman in the changing world and the important other was successfully bringing up two boys and a girl as a single mother.   

After I sold my fashion business in 1995 it was natural to commence painting as I had been making art in various forms all my life.  Painting was just an extension of my creative inquiry. My art has evolved from my life experience and a passionate interest in the history of textiles. 

From 2000, I participated in a few group shows and several one person shows. I had some difficulty with fitting in to a system that to me was amateurish in comparison with my experience as a professional business director. In 2007 at the age of 75, I decided to withdraw from exhibiting in unsuitable venues and to achieve a better financial result by showing my work from my own studio - showroom. 

 In August 2015, my work was shown in a large survey exhibition at Glen Eira City Gallery in Melbourne. I’m now working on a new series of paintings and drawings to exhibit in 2016 when I will be 85.  


2015         - Survey Exhibition, Glen Eira Gallery, Melbourne - paintings and fashion from                         1966-2015;
2007-2010-  Yearly Exhibition of art work from the studio;
2006         -  Intrude Gallery - paintings;
2005         -  McCulloch Gallery, Melbourne - new paintings;
2000         -  Aardwolf Gallery, Survey Exhibition - paintings from 1988-2000;
1996         -  Spence Promotions New York - paintings;
1976-1994-  French Showroom, Melbourne - wall hangings, jewellery;
1994        -  Julie Artisan's Gallery, New York - wall hangings;
1990-2006-  Marc French Pty Ltd, Melbourne - paintings;
1994-2006-  Studio Exhibitions - paintings;
1987   -  Acland Art Gallery, St Kilda, Melbourne - comprehensive jewellery exhibition;
1967-1995-  Director of fashion business 'French'.


2005         -  Intrude - paintings;
2003         -  McGivern Art Prize;
2003         -  Metropolis, St Kilda - paintings;
2001       -   Mahoney's Galleries, Hardware Lane, Melbourne                  - paintings;
2000         -  Murdoch & Barclay, Clara Street, South Yarra -                        paintings;
2000         -   Aardwolf Gallery, Melbourne - paintings;
1999         -   Metropolis, St Kilda - paintings;
1999         -   Aardwolf Gallery, Melbourne - paintings;
1996         -   A.R.T Gallery Eden, Collins Street, Melbourne - 
1996         -   Spence Promotions, New York - paintings;
1992         -   Acland Art Gallery, St Kilda - paintings;
1988         -   Acland Art Gallery, St Kilda - Exhibition of small


Work is held in various corporate collections, including the collection of Sofitel Hostels and numerous private collections in Australia, New York and Cologne.

Information and inquiries about Helen's work are on:
On the website in Éxhibitions' there is an online catalogue of Helen's recent exhibition.