Totally in love with the work of Unskilled Worker. The dolls, the style, the colors, the details, etc. Helen Downie is the artist behind the unskilled worker. The British artist’s connection to Gucci dates back to 2015, when Alessandro Michele took over creative direction, her work on Instagram caught his eye. Since then, she has painted his collections on her characters.
How did you start painting? Everything happened so accidentally. I started on a whim, with a few pens and inks. Initially I thought I would paint for six weeks but once I started I couldn’t stop. I think the time was right; I needed the space; it’s been like falling in love!
When I was in NYC, I saw this wall… so cool!
Did you ever imagine it to be this big? Oh no! I could never have imagined! I’ve always felt very honored; humbled that people are interested in what I do. It’s been an incredible adventure and at times a little overwhelming but when I think it’s just me, my chalks, ink and paper, I’m happy.
How has your painting style evolved? My early artworks resemble my first boyfriend who died when he was 21. It was all a bit subconscious and not intentional. Because I started painting at 48, there was a lot to come out. Also it took time for me to find my line. When I started, I borrowed from others, like artists do, and over time my own lines appeared, it’s a wonderful feeling when that happens.
“….little secrets are threaded through, things held dear since childhood. It’s intensely personal.”
Is there anything personal inside your work? I like to play with personal references; there are often hidden messages in my work. The Gucci works have often been inspired by people who I’ve known or have been a response to Alessandro’s references and how I’ve connected with those. My work is similar to his, little secrets are threaded through, things held dear since childhood. It’s intensely personal.
What inspires you? I’m drawn to everything from religious art to vintage Russian postcards, old Chinese advertising posters and Tudor paintings, album covers and song lyrics, particularly Kate Bush and Radiohead. Music is very inspiring because the image doesn’t exist, so my mind fills in the image. I like work that’s bright but has an underlying darkness, like Henry Darger and Otto Dix. It can also be a face I see on a train, I like how people’s expressions are when they think no-one’s looking.
What did you think when you first saw your works on the collection? To actually see firsthand the craftsmanship that went into translating my paintings on to the most beautiful of fabrics was overwhelming. It’s been a conversation really with Gucci, that’s how I see it, like a creative conversation.