MV Times Article

23 August

Took some extra grit this morning but we did manage to load up our little family and haul our sleepy selves up to the high school for the South Beach Supercharged Walk. Week 2. It’s a lot prettier than the alternating days’ exercise routine…trust me. And it does feel great to get the stiff old joints moving early in the day, come home to a protein filled meal, shower up and be charged up to get right  to work at the easel.

I made a detour today to check email and found a note from friend Jen on the Vineyard, 

” Congratulations once again on MV Times front page.  Great article, but where’s your picture? “.

Here’s a link to that article …


Click on this image to read article.

Click on this image to read article.

Brooks Robards called for an interview last week and we had an interesting conversation about the many interpretations and definitions of REALISM in art today. She pushed me to clarify where I felt my artwork fit into that genre.

People often respond that my paintings “look just like a photograph”, but I am not a Photorealist. not as Estes, Close and Goings and others defined the genre in the 60’s. Here’s a brief definition from Wikipedia..

Photorealist painting cannot exist without the photograph. In Photorealism, change and movement must be frozen in time which must then be accurately represented by the artist.[14] Photorealists gather their imagery and information with the camera and photograph. Once the photograph is developed (usually onto a photographic slide) the artist will systematically transfer the image from the photographic slide onto canvases. This is done by either projecting the slide or grid techniques.[15] The resulting images are often direct copies of the original photograph but are usually larger than the original photograph or slide. This results in the photorealist style being tight and precise, often with an emphasis on imagery that requires a high level of technical prowess and virtuosity to simulate, such as reflections in specular surfaces and the geometric rigor of man-made environs.[16]

20th century photorealism can be contrasted with the similarly literal style found in trompe l’oeil paintings of the 19th century. However, trompe l’oeil paintings tended to be carefully designed, very shallow-space still-lifes, employing illusionistic devices such as the use of shadows to cause small objects to appear to exist above the surface of the painting. (Trompe l’oeil literally means “fool the eye.”) The photorealism movement moved beyond this illusionism to tackle deeper spatial representations (e.g. urban landscapes) and took on much more varied and dynamic subject matter.

In so far as a Photorealist is trying to make their paintings look like an actual photograph they are focusing on a two dimensional product. The craftsmanship has to be strong, the technique flawless, in order to convince the viewer, but the subject matter is static, representing a moment or snapshot in time.

This differs from my goal, at least what I am trying to aim for, which is to uncover layers of meaning and narrative and light from the subjects in my paintings which represents them in an arch of time and history.

I do use photographs for reference when I can’t sit the subject down in front of my easel, but have, sometimes, hundreds of shots that relay information as to detail, design and form. Coupled with sketches and studies over time and in many different conditions of light and space, I build a composition, especially with the still lifes, that often could not exist in the “real” world. Even with the landscapes and figurative work, elements may be altered to enhance the structure of the composition or the narrative. But, hopefully, the essence endures.

I appreciate your generous and kind words about the paintings Brooks, and you got the point that I so clumsily was trying to articulate…that that third dimension is where the difference liesfrom her article,  she (Heather) says, “I aim to be three-dimensional. That’s where the soul comes in. I like having several layers in a painting. You have a whole narrative going, then you step back and look at the title and get a whole other idea. There’s a sense of mystery.”

Light, mystery, the patina of history, and above all a good dose of humble humor…that’s my reality, the realism I try to represent in my work.

I’m not sure which of my artist friends has the time or inclination to read these blog entries…but I would love to continue this conversation. What is your definition of Realism, and how does it inform your artwork?

Chime in and link us to some of your artwork while you’re at it. Opening new windows is what this blog is all about.

And now, it’s time to leave the cyber world and get to the easel…

Stay frosty out there, HN

13 thoughts on “MV Times Article

  1. Dear HN,

    I don’t fit the bill as a visual artist friend (more of a BS artist) but I do want to weigh in and to say I love your work, your words, yourself, and Herself.

    Here’s a thing I wrote earlier this year:

    Beyond Representation

    Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco/ New York
    Summer 2008

    Fifteen years ago when I began curating a series of biennial exhibitions called Re-presenting Representation it was literally necessary to present realist art again to a public who had been swayed by the many “isms” of the twentieth century to reject realism in art as passé.

    The first thought was to re-present academic realism. These were artists who portrayed the reality we see before us. Verisimilitude and command of the media were simple criteria to judge the quality of the work. Many young and established artists fit the bill. Some of the work was surpassingly beautiful. Other work was merely competent. I began to look for work that embodied a “something else,” borrowing a phrase from the great Jungian scholar James Hillman who wrote a chapter on “Neither Nature nor Nurture – Something Else,” in his book The Soul’s Code.

    It was no longer enough to present the best work representing visual reality – the best work that was not merely competent but suggested a life force in the subjects portrayed and a point of view on the part of the artist. It invited contemplation and discussion, not passive admiration.

    I found myself trotting along beside, and more often behind, artists who were using the new freedom from the strictures of “isms” to explore media and to get at the stuff underlying visual reality. Science was discovering that the “stuff” was vast and that much of the stuff of the universe is, actually, not visible. Dark Matter and Dark Energy go way beyond the concepts of the Dark Ages but cause a similar kind of awe.

    Artists began to synchronize the timely and the timeless. They began to represent not only the seen, but the unseen, and to seek similarities or inspiring contrasts in other cultures. The vast complexity of natural life began to reveal itself as Nature when Nurture began to give way to free observation and the experience of…Something Else.

    Karen Jenkins Johnson staged her First Annual Realism Invitational 10 years ago. Last year, realizing the limitations of the term “realism,” she changed the title to Representation 2007. When Karen asked me to work with her on her tenth anniversary exhibition we both knew we wanted “something else” and I suggested the title Beyond Representation. “Beyond Realism” wouldn’t have worked because over the years we have come to realize that the “real” is vast and all-inclusive. “Representation” of this bigger reality has changed and expanded.

    The work we have been able to assemble addresses responses to this widened sense of reality. In glass, Giles Bettison’s gridded vessels were inspired by the regular array of factory windows opposite his studio, and Steffen Damm was inspired by ephemeral flora and fauna to re-create them in a material that is at one time fluid and at another, solid. Anne-Karin Furunes creates portraits out of negative space – holes punched through the canvas. Dan Dailey’s drawings are made of powder coated wire. Julia Fullerton-Batten’s young women tower over their worlds just as they do in their own minds. Jon Eric Riis and Michael Bergt accommodate images from other cultures and other contexts to make new connections. Grant Hayunga “paints” his animal and hybrid portraits with human and animal hair. Robert Polidori finds unexpected beauty in the stairwell of a school in the abandoned city of Pripyat, once home to the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

    This exhibition is not an exhaustive survey. It offers the suggestion that the world of art is as broad as the expanding universe. It has room for everything. Contemporary representational art needed a boost 10 and 15 years ago, if only to celebrate its continued existence in world of Modernism. Today it needs a different kind of boost to make it aware of the complexities, contradictions, and interrelationships of the modern world—that its traditions are valid but exist in a broader context.

    The French philosopher and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote about the complex relationships between the observable and the unobservable world. He encouraged unfettered viewing. “Our duty, as men and women,” he wrote, “is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

  2. Hey Heather –
    Great article. I keep thinking of your work in terms of literature and film (as is my wont), and think “magic realism” is a good way to describe your work, partially. “Contemporary” places it in the current era; but there’s a lot more to distinguishing it from other “realist” paintings than just saying it’s from today, not Vermeer’s era (or Wyeth’s or Dali’s). Your work features sometimes quirky, sometimes not feasible, sometimes supernatural/magical elements that tell a story that goes far beyond the story that the images alone – or even together – can tell. But it’s also not surreal, although it can have surrealistic elements as well. It makes me think of a certain film I’m working on that you know a lot about! Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

    Magic realism is a world-wide phenomenon; the geographical, historical and cultural contexts in which it has evolved are extremely diverse. This has given rise to an abundance in discourse strategies. Nevertheless, six features of the many that have been associated with magic realism tend to be found in all magical-realist texts: 1) the perspective is that of ‘the Other’; 2) the duties of the readers, in decoding the texts, have ‘evolved’; 3) the setting has a relatively specific historical, geographical and cultural context; 4) reality is presented as the human experience of the universe, and elements such as dream and imagination are consequently present; 5) a free, post-structuralist style of writing; and, finally, 6) the inexplicable, in its many shapes and forms, plays a major role in all magical-realist texts. Although ‘magical realist’ literature varies in its structure and presentation, one universal theme is the use of the fantastical to highlight and challenge the setting’s paradigm, rather than merely as a plot device or setting.

    I’m in the gallery, hawking some Nakashima!

    Hope the muses visit in spades as you work.


  3. Heather, you have a realistic style, but your paintings have a very contemplative, spiritual feel. The viewer is transcended into a different time or place. My mentor and teacher, Robert Andriulli, describes his work as “painterly realism”. The subject matter is realistic (typically landscape). His brush strokes are loose and “painterly”. I find that my style is closer to his than yours, but we all use realistic subject matter. Today I went to the easel to paint peppers because their shapes intrigued me. Sometimes I paint because an object or a landscape begs to be painted. Sometimes there is a spiritual quality in the object. Sometimes I use the subject, whether it is a still life, figure or landscape as a point of departure. I look for the energy in the positive and negative spaces. Today I walked around our property in the morning and took loads of reference photos. I was intrigued by the morning light, the cast shadows, the shapes between the branches. I will probably not paint any of the photos directly, but I will use this information to inform my work. I know I’ve rambled on a bit. Hope this helps!

  4. Wow. lots to chew on, but for me, I just think you’re a painter – I dislike the pigeon-holing, but art critics and historians have to have some words to use.

    I like the phrase one of your commentors used – “hawking some Nakashima”

    Let us know when you move to the Vineyard, we can divvy up some ferry tickets back & forth. We just came back from an evening on the beach at Plymouth, and summer wanes – thus the beach gets better every day now.

    talk to you later, congrats on the article. sounds great.
    PF et al

  5. I’ll add here Professor Rob’s comment…
    (without his considered approval).

    Classic Modernism; Modern Traditionalism; Neo-Classicism … arrrgh!! Architects, historians, art teachers, etc. have always stretched to find new or recycled expressions to describe new or recycled trends and movements. So? I really have NO IDEA what distinguishes Contemporary Realism except that maybe it is realism produced now as opposed to some other time — say in the past or future. Have we ever enjoyed the outpourings of a Contemporary Futurist, or a Future Realist? Hummmmm….

    My two bits? … I would describe you as a narrative painter; mostly real, sometimes surreal — and always fabulous!

    Keep it up!

  6. And ammend these with this…

    while I certainly appreciate the nice comments about my own work…would I approve them otherwise ? maybe…

    My original intent was to hear from you all as to how you classify the definition of Realism in general, and how it might or might not apply to your own work.
    Since, so far, none of you are painters…tho all are artists…BS and then some…I’ll say that I agree with my satyrical cynical friends who aschew any pigeon -holing-isms…and my scholarly friend who wants us to broaden our concepts and boldly go where no creators have gone before…and my more ethereal friends who offer even more categories like painterly realism, and magical realism….hmmmm
    but wait… I have to draw the line at the magical place T.
    Knowing where you are coming from, you mystic you, I understand the reference and have even come across it recently when viewing the website of a local artist friend, Rob Evans ( I mentioned him in a blog entry recently and included him in the invitation to chime in here…) here’s a link to his site… where in he actually has started defining his art as Magical Realism.
    I can see how it fits his work and how he is pushing even more in that direction.

    and I say this as an adult who cannot live without her Harry Potter audiobook collection !!!, I think the words magical and realism together are silly.

    When labels need be applied…for now,
    I’ll borrow Realism, and Representional for my categories.
    Back to you…

  7. Hey. You said none of your comment writers were painters….I consider myself a painter. What do I have to do to qualify? I know I used to deliver your mail….I may not be quite up to the level of you and Rob but… I feel a little bit slighted here.

  8. Dear Anita, of COURSE you are a painter ! That was totally my stupid oversight NOT my opinion ! Please accept my apology.
    I check your blog daily to see the new work and read about your creative journey….and will post the address here for others to see for themselves that other artists are out there are living, breathing and painting their dreams…
    Thanks for rattling my aging brain and hope you can forgive it’s lapse.

    PS- My favorite work of yours so far is Reforestation II

  9. Heather,
    Contemporary Realism is generally defined as painting contemporary themes and subjects with close consideration, no exaggeration or alteration The problem with the label is that it is used too broadly. There are so many realisms that it is difficult to pick your fit; C. Realism, MagicRealism, Painterly Realism, Classical Realism, and the list goes on. I think you are being fair and honest when you refer to yourself as a contemporary realist. Photorealism refers to a flat systematic approach to painting and your addition of the third dimension takes you off that shelf. You paint contemporary things, themes, and subjects, so yes, Contemporary you are. At times maybe you could slip onto the Magic realism shelf but research this history a bit… I think you might enjoy some new artists that may appeal to your sensibilty. Classical Realism refers to an academic method and approach to composition and subject. Again, I think people, artists and curators alike, are using the term realism too broadly because it refers to 19th century painters like Courbet which so many painters don’t connect to. Think about why you decided to make a painting and what drove you to continue it to completion. What made it complete? Define “complete painting” and I bet you will have new insight into what kind of painter you are. Honestly, when I go into the studio the only thing I am considering is how to make the painting on the easel the best it can be in terms of how I see the painting finished. Let the gallery, critics, and curators label you and just work on finishing the next painting so they can debate the label. Happy painting.