Twenty-four-year-old Tyler Helfrich will tell you he doesn’t consider himself to be from anywhere. He was born in La Crosse, completed high school in Appleton, took off for UW-Stout after graduating, and then spent time exploring outside of the states. The printmaker has been back in Appleton for just under a year and recently wrapped up an international print exchange (a collection of prints from multiple artists, all one size, and required to have at least one form of traditional printmaking). Here, the creative opens up about the adventures and lessons that have kept him curious.
Printmaking gave me the creative limitlessness I desperately needed.
R+B: When did you first feel the pull for a creative life?
TH: I’d say high school. I went to Fox Valley Lutheran HS and there was a teacher there named Joe Dufore, a very interesting and passionate guy. I took his digital communications course when I was a sophomore and we were editing music and videos on the computer. A whole new world opened up to me because of that experience. As I neared graduation, I was taking any and all digital media/graphic design classes (like screenprinting and linoleum) that I could.
R+B: You mention you attended UW-Stout. What’s your degree?
TH: I have a BFA in fine art with an emphasis in printmaking. Joe Dufore actually recommended UW-Stout to me because of its arts and design school. Super thankful for you, Joe Dufore, wherever you are!
R+B: Tell me about the time you spent traveling. How did that experience influence you?
TH: Living and studying in Germany was the most influential thing I’ve ever done to date. Living abroad changed the way my brain functions; I learned how to be free there. Our culture and climate are very similar, but fundamentally very different. I felt less pressure to impress my professors or colleagues, and also less pressure to take on projects (like I did at Stout). Because of less stress, I was able to start creating in a different way. Creatively, I was able to break down old preconceived walls of how things are done and make way for more of a free-flowing creative process. I was able to be happier about the work I was producing. When I returned to the states, I took all of those creative juices into the already-known outlines and molds we commonly use here.
R+B: When did you realize you wanted to pursue printmaking?
RH: When I was studying in Germany. I initially went there to study graphic design but after being accepted by the “printmaking people,” seeing the workshops, and working with other printmakers, I realized I wanted to do more of it and eventually get a degree in it. At the same time, I was getting more and more frustrated doing projects I wasn’t inspired to do (aka graphic design for clients). Falling into the category of fine art, printmaking gave me the creative limitlessness I desperately needed. Before printmaking, I was spending a lot of time on music. I was initially denied by UW-Stout to study abroad, and if the decision hadn’t been reversed, I was on the path of dropping out and going to a school for music production. I was actually able to create my first two instrumental albums while I was living in Germany. I’ve only finished an EP since being back in the USA.
R+B: Tell me about the other ways you create.
TH: Because of my degree, I am in the fine art game: prints, painting and sculpture (I enjoy the most). I DJ and also “compose” music, mostly with Ableton and Logic now, but constantly practicing different techniques and different “instruments.” I do graphic and package design, photography, videography, event planning, curating, and other collaborative things. I also enjoy writing… poems, stories, dreams, and I suppose journalism, too, to some extent.
R+B: Describe your studio space.
TH: It’s a hoarder’s definition of cleaned up and tidy! There are random paintings leaning against the cold, unfinished cement walls of my parent’s basement. Amongst them are stacks of prints that fall into the category of works-in-progress. On the floor, lying dormant under the staircase, is my six-arm manual screen printing press. Also littered throughout the space are many unfinished woodblocks. Unfinished in the sense that they are not fully carved and some not even drawn out or conceptualized. It can be a little bit of a boring place so I try to create a nice environment for myself on the days I feel trapped there. Also in the office, alongside the papers I have most of my t-shirts, poster prints and sticker inventory. The last part of my studio space is my make-shift music studio, equipped with a turntable, various beat/pattern machines, monitors, midi piano, and miles of musical c(h)ords.
R+B: OK, tell me about the print exchange you have organized. When did it kick off?
TH: I was first inspired to create an exchange at a printmaking conference called SGCI in spring 2015. Two months later, I had all 26 artists lined up and figured out. The deadline to get the prints finished and sent to me was in December so I could get them all put together and sent out by the first week of the new year. Turns out almost 10 artists didn’t show up with work. That created a multiple phase replacement program that also didn’t work out so smoothly. The problems I’ve faced haven’t discouraged me; I’ve only realized organizing artists is like herding cats. The main concept or theme of this “Time In-Between” print collection is aimed at rediscovering where time really goes and what time represents to each of us individually. Each person is essentially experiencing the same phenomena (time passing or aging), but we all have the possibility of experiencing it in different ways. What this portfolio is really aiming towards are the times that are strange or peculiar. For example, when you are watching an amazing show and it seems like only 10 minutes went by, but in reality hours have passed. Another example on the opposite side of the spectrum is when you are waiting for something – a loved one in the hospital, an interview for your dream job, or as simple as watching your water boil; in these instances, time is slower than usual, or so it is perceived. What would the “time in between” be for you? A painfully excruciating waiting period like waiting for prints to dry, or an alarmingly quick one like going to sleep for 8 hours only to wake up and have it feel like 5 minutes? This portfolio is open to all traditional and non-traditional printmaking arts media. Submitted works must include at least one element that has been created on or with a printing press to be considered inclusive in the exhibition theme. Glow in the dark inks, flocking and embossing are appropriate and encouraged. Here is the official list of artists participating:
Jeremiah Kremer – USA
Ross Turner – USA
Bill Boober – Germany
Lars Roeder – USA
Dan Wagner – USA
Jenny Junker – USA
Amanda Durig – USA
Sara Luck – USA
Nate Perkins – USA
Eric Euler – Canada
Tyler Helfrich – USA
Brett Schieszer – USA
Douglas Bosley – USA
Shoua Yang – USA
Reba Pyron – USA
Julie Pederson – USA
Ashley McGee – USA
Ana Maria Botero – Colombia
Roy Barba – Mexico
Billy Wenner – USA
Teri Lesner – USA
Dom Wright – USA
Ben Kremer – USA
Mia Russell – USA
R+B: How did you connect with artists in other countries?
TH: Three of these artists were friends of mine previously who I had met while we were studying at a university in Hildesheim, Germany. One is a native German (Bill Boober) and the other two are from Mexico (Roy Barba) and Colombia (Ana María Botero). Another artist is from Canada (Eric Euler) who I met briefly at SGCI in Knoxville. I grabbed his card because I enjoyed his work and later reached out to him with the invitation.
R+B: How can people get involved or view the art in the current exchange?
TH: To get involved in future exchanges, artists can reach out to me on any social media platforms. I will most likely ask to see a portfolio of their own work so I can properly curate artists into specific projects and/or collaborations. Always trying to collab! The current portfolio that I organized, Time In-Between, will be available to view at hilfreichstudio.com. There you will be able to see the prints in the collection and connect with those artists on social media.
R+B: Who and what inspires you?
TH: I get a lot of motivation and inspiration from other hustlers and artists going out and getting whatever it is they are passionate about, whether they’re doing music, videos, ANYTHING. It gets me pumped up to keep grinding and make things happen. Hopefully I can inspire others and the whole cycle begins again. I think one of the biggest things that helps me separate all of the inspiration (and chaos) is stillness. Once you stop moving, you can breathe, and once you can breathe you can more clearly think about what needs to materialize next.
R+B: What’s your biggest creative barrier?
TH: So many. My biggest one now is not having the appropriate amount of space and equipment to do what I want and need to do. More space to screen print and a very large sink would be awesome right now. And an ever bigger barrier than that is money! Because I don’t give a fuck about it! I try very hard to not value money more than experience, relationships and life skills.
R+B: What is being an artist in Wisconsin like for you? What would you like to see more of?
TH: I would really, really like to see more street art. We have so very much concrete infrastructure that are huge open canvases for artists. I appreciate museum and gallery artwork very much, but I think I have a better connection to graffiti rather than those common white walls of galleries and museums. I feel the word graffiti gets a bad rap because it’s mostly associated with a lot of scribble text and “John was here” type of stuff in inappropriate places. Graffiti I’d like to see throughout NE Wisconsin would be vibrant and colorful with playful attitudes. I’d also like to see the expression of the common persons, specifically towards their own cultural problems. But being an artist in the Fox Valley is really interesting and I enjoy the community! I really can tell there are people out there that are doing fantastic things for our community and our culture. It’s definitely progressing and it’s great encouragement to stick around.
R+B: What else are you working on? What’s next for you?
TH: I would say the next biggest creation for me will be a compilation album with various artists. I’d like it to create a visual story with abstract sounds and dialogue. At this time, the concept is still being worked out so I’m not sure about what genre it’ll be, persay, but the idea is to produce custom album art that will create the setting for the “plot” and go from there. I’d like to send any artist who works on it the artwork to possibly inspire them and, at the end when the songs are compiled and pressed into vinyl, I’ll curate an artist to create the deluxe edition album artwork based on how the music sounds. That’ll be a year or two away. I know things need time to materialize. I’m also doing a 100-day project. It entails 75 wips, 50 music tracks and 25 woodcuts. I am being strict with myself in this challenge, but my intention is not to necessarily make beautiful, award-winning things (even though that would be killer!) but it’s to simply show up. I’ve recently been incredibly bogged down with paperwork, event planning and client work that it feels like I’m not organically creating as much as I would like to or have done previously. And actually because of that reality, I’ve decided to create and launch a Patreon page in order for folks who enjoy the work I do to support financially so I can have more organic time to create better content. Also I’m changing up my website/webstore. Originally it was geared towards selling, but I want to make that secondary to the artists who are creating them. Artists first! I’d also like to change it into more of a blog about the artists who collaborate with Hilfreich Studio. Oh, on July 22 I’m co-hosting an art/music event with Mark Gaells down in Appleton’s river flats (by Tempest Coffee Collective). More details to come.
Text: Alison Mayer
Photos: Adam Shea