Artist turns a loss from the past into vision for the future
To Helyn Davenport, her grandmother was larger than life. A grand lady of show business during the Old Hollywood days, Helyn Broadhurst danced and acted her way through life, appearing in Buster Keaton films and on numerous theater stages. But her amazing story was cut short by Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that was just beginning to make the medical books.
“It was very difficult” Davenport said from her office in Orange City, Florida, “and it wasn’t as talked about back then.” To cope with her grief, Davenport turned to art. She began taking pictures of her grandmother and manipulating the images in the darkroom for different effects.
The photographs turned out to be a poignant commentary on a subject that was still largely taboo. They launched a fair amount of controversy, but they also launched Helyn Davenport’s professional career. The photographs of her grandmother’s battle gained the notice of several prominent artists, and even that of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the famed author and psychiatrist. Most importantly, Davenport found working with the images enormously therapeutic. She had found her artistic ‘voice’ — spoken through the lens of a camera.
Davenport’s photography has continued to win considerable acclaim and notice, and a career that began with tragedy has been the occasion for much joy. She has gained critical acclaim for her striking work with effects and image manipulation, and she has also transformed her success into a means for other artists to find their voice. PixiPort.com, Davenport’s latest venture, promotes the work of commercial and non-commercial photographers, and provides a cyber-gallery where undiscovered as well as established artists display their work to the public.
Paint Shop Pro has been a great fit for her both professionally and philosophically, Davenport said. “The whole purpose of art for me is giving a voice to more people. Paint Shop Pro also does that. It’s affordable and very approachable and easy to use. It has everything you need to be creative.”
Davenport appreciates Paint Shop Pro’s accessibility, both in terms of its price point and its user-friendly interface. “I’ve used Paint Shop Pro since the beginning,” she said. “The nicest thing about it is that you don’t have the learning curve that you have with other programs. Jasc’s software is very user-friendly. I started out with it, I know it, I’m at home with it. I recommend it to people all the time.”
Davenport’s own work continues to be born largely through her wizardry in the “light room” with Paint Shop Pro. Her soulful, vibrant images involve lush layering, swaths of color and brush strokes, and gorgeous, soft tones and blends. There is a visceral quality to her work that is at the same time communicative and mysterious. Davenport’s favorite Paint Shop Pro tools include Contours and Soften. “I can take apart an image and get incredible effects using ‘Contours.’ A little while ago, I took a shot of a beach scene and used the Contour feature. It got an incredible reaction from everyone – gallery owners and such. All that attention from one simple beach scene and a simple filter.”
Davenport’s subjects range from people, to nature, to abstract images and collages. The process is similar for each piece, “lots of layers” she laughed. She works with each layer, using tools like brushes, Smudge, Push and Contours, then blends the layers for a soft, sometimes dreamy effect.
“This was a photograph taken of my grandmother in her show-biz days,” she said of the work entitled “Eternal Watch.” “I colorized the shot to give it the brown tone, then I used the Crop Tool to create layer after layer of the same image. I also painted with this one, used the Soften Tool, and even used Picture Tubes to create the teardrop.”
Another photo, entitled “Dual Man,” shows vibrant colors and, again, multiple layers and dimensions. “This is actually a photograph of my husband sleeping in a chair. I used layers, paint, contours and brush strokes. I also used the Enamel Filter on this one.”
Davenport has created an amazingly varied and exciting career for herself. She looks forward to a show of her work at the Packinghouse Gallery in Largo, Fla, and she’s currently collaborating on a musical slide show with friend Bob Brunold. Her work is a testament to the creativity that can come in the face of great loss and tragedy. “My grandmother was a great, spirited lady,” she mused. A tradition that clearly lives on.