Former investment analyst-turned-artist uses a unique process called hydrographic transfer to transpose photographs onto 3D objects.

Belgian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Marie-Hélène welcomes me to her sunlit studio and jokingly asks if I would like a “warm” Diet Coke.

The last time she kept a fridge in her studio was over 10 years ago, when she rented a space in Dumbo, now one of Brooklyn’s ritziest neighborhoods. With a year-to-year lease on her current studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the future “seems rickety,” she says.

As a mathematician by training and investment analyst by trade, Marie-Hélène relishes precision; her artwork predominantly features the Golden Ratio, an irrational number denoting perfect proportions that is said to be found in architecture, geometry and classical art such as works by Leonardo Da Vinci and even the DNA helix. Since founding her own artspace called Gryphon Fabricators in 201o, she’s kept one foot in the banking world as a consultant.

Marie-Hélène’s work has been exhibited around the world, including in the USA, Europe and Asia.

In her art work, Marie-Hélène enlists a chemical process called hydrographic transfer to transpose original photographs onto 3D objects, including sculptures, sheets of metal and copper – and, most recently– hydraulic pipe grips that she recasts in plaster so that they can be mounted on the wall.

“After a while, you think each one has a personality,” she says pensively while fingering one such pipe fitting. “It looks like some sort of a creature. But that’s just after staring at them for a while.”

Marie-Helene’s assistant helps her with the process.

Marie-Hélène starts by printing a photograph onto a sheet of film supported by a piece of paper. The artist then sprays a chemical solution onto the photograph and immerses it in hot water for 10 minutes. Then she introduces the 3D object into the water, at which point the film separates from the paper and merges with the object.

Hydrographic transfer is also used for car and motorcycle decals.

In relying on a chemical reaction to create her art, Marie-Hélène abdicates partial control over the end result. “You get the high, I suppose, a sort of high,” she says of the thrill when a piece of art turns out exactly as she envisions. “You’re surprised and you get a high, until the next time when it doesn’t come out the way you want and then you just want to break everything.”

Through repetition of the chemical process over the years, she has worked her way up to a 75 percent success rate.

Mounted against two adjacent walls are copper sheets awash in earthy primary colors with the dappled liquid quality of tie dye, each one derived from photographs of previous artworks. The rectangles, squares and spirals that enclose them adhere to the Golden Ratio, namely one side divided by the other is equal to the infinite number 1.618, which Marie-Hélène renders to the third decimal place using a compass and a set square.

Just like the Golden Ratio continues ad infinitum, the artist derives subsequent works of art from previous oeuvres as a symbolic manifestation of this endlessness and of “evolution.”

“With art you don’t know who will like what and sometimes people like the thing you don’t like,” says Marie-Hélène. “But you can’t compromise and start doing things you don’t like just to please people.”

As the artist-in-residence at the Conrad, New York, Marie-Hélène’s work is currently on display in the hotel’s first floor lobby amidst rotating art exhibits by prominent local artists, with a collection titled ‘Spring’ that is focused on spring and nature.

Kindra Cooper

Kindra Cooper is a freelance journalist and copy editor. She hails from Indonesia, where she wrote features for The Jakarta Post, Indonesia's largest English-language newspaper. Once in New York, she covered...

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