Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Art Space Talk: Heidi Taillefer

I recently interviewed artist Heidi Taillefer. Heidi's work has been featured in numerous publications (She was featured in Juxtapoz Magazine). She is known for the 'mechanical' overtones that can be observed in her work.

Heidi's body of work offers great insight into how technology can cause us to sacrifice our humanity. In a sense, she paints a landscape full of characters and creatures that are in constant conflict with their natural state of being and the technological advances that intrude upon their environment.

Her recent work contains a degree of mystery and enchantment. These elements combine in a form of symbolic fusion- a visual documentation of Heidi's spiritual wandering and cultural experiences.

Heidi is best known for having designed the internationally recognized image of "Dralion" for the Cirque du Soleil. She has exhibited her paintings throughout North America, and her work is collected internationally.

Brian Sherwin: Heidi, a major theme in your work is how we dehumanize ourselves through the use of technology. Why do you take such a strong stance on this topic? We live in a society that relies on computers, cell phones, and other forms of communication technology... are you concerned that we are loosing 'true' communication due to this? Is that reflected in your work?

Heidi Taillefer: My stance on technology reflects concerns with the detrimental effects of technology on society and the environment. Technology as a whole is not bad, civilisation was built on innovative advancements, and of course it helps improve the quality of our lives. But technological development is outpacing human evolution on many levels.

First and foremost is technology's impact on the environment, which is unquestionalby an issue these days. We also have certain features which are particular to our animal, namely our social requirements. These are being largely supplanted by technology and that can lead to a greater sense of isolation and depression. In past surveys taken across cultures, it appeared that the more developed nations suffered mostly from depression, whereas the simpler or more "primitive" cultures seemed to rank happiest of all. (The tribespeople of New Guinea are apparently among the happiest communities).

It is true that communication is facilitated by technology , but communities shrink as well, and our primal being was designed for a more social integration, not connection through the intermediary of machines.

The cost of convenience is sterility, and it is important to sustain a healthy balance between the two. On the physical level, technology brings tremendous gains, but there is also the scare of Frankenstinian applications of technology, the development of which could very well go beyond human wisdom and understanding.

BS: Heidi, your work is known for its 'mechanical' overtones and symbolic fusion of elements. What directed you toward this style of work?

HT: I originally rendered everything as mechanical during my adolescence, it was an obcession with mechanism, and it had an edgy appeal, but was one of lifes jolts which shifted the work into a symbolic direction.

BS: Heidi, can you give us more details about your artistic vision and how it has expanded through the years? Where do you see your work taking you in the future?

HT: My artistic vision, apart from its independent origin, is shaped by an openess to what I see or hear around me. Its hard to see what you're doing without the benefit of hindsight, so until time allows you to distance yourself from your work, you can't see as clearly what "mistakes" you're making in art. Unless that perspective is challenged in a constructive way, which you have to allow, its easy to stay the course.

Personally, I often get bored with my own work, and find it hard to continue happily when I feel it is getting too formulaic, so I struggle for some sort of evolution within the confines of my artistic voice.

The greatest satisfaction for me is that moment of revelation when you happen upon a novel idea, when you hit a target you couldn't see in the first place, and which doesn't technically even exist to begin with. Thats the reward of creativity, the Eureka moment.

BS: People have said that you are best known for having designed the internationally recognized image of "Dralion" (image above) for the Cirque du Soleil. Care to share any experiences you had creating that piece?

HT: The production of that illustration was one of the most challenging and exciting projects I have ever worked on. The Cirque du Soleil pushes you to your limits by placing seemingly impossible demands and deadlines on you, while being among the most gracious and pleasant people to work with.

The submission drawing which had been accepted and then rendered in color was, upon presentation to the executive body of the Cirque (Guy Laliberte) summarily rejected as being utterly irrelevant to the show. Since I had been directed by three art directors, this came as a shock, and it was asked that I be left alone to interpret the show my way, without any interference from the agency or even the Cirque art director.

I had total freedom on an advertising piece, not something you see very often. Guy Laliberte supervised the progress from time to time, and basically directed the project directly, which was the best strategy in the end. But I also had that much less time to finish the image before the press junket, so I worked 20 hours a day for 8 days straight. Since then I have been regularity involved with the Cirque in some way.

BS: Heidi, in your youth you had private art lessons. It seems that a lot of children and teens are held back from their creativity due to school programs that do not take art that seriously. What advice can you give to parents or educators who wish to strengthen art programs in their schools? Do you consider yourself to be an advocate for art education?

HT: Art is of fundamental importance in the development of a mind, it exercises faculties which are applicable in so many areas other than art. Creativity and innovaton are what separated us from the other animals in the first place, and it has been the key to our survival, from the most minute situation to the most global. I think to eliminate art programs in school does a huge disservice to kids, who need to exercise lateral modes of thinking , especially during such a crucial stage of development.

Maybe one solution to either time or budget constraints would be to incorporate creativity into programs which follow a more linear approach. If there were some way to underline the creative activity which takes place in sports, or science, or whatever program, by challenging kids to find solutions, then maybe the absence of actual art programs can be reconciled in some way.

BS: Heidi, you have been featured in Juxtapoz Magazine. Many artists consider that to be a major accomplishment. How did you feel about it? Care to share any details of that experience?

HT: I was thrilled to finally have a piece done on my work in the magazine. They have so much they can cover, from so many talented artists, that it can take a very long time before your turn comes up. I had waited a couple of years actually, and in the end the timing of the article coincided perfectly with an exhibition which was being held in California at the time. Someone at Touchstone Studios then saw the article, and requested that one of the images he saw be included in an upcoming episode of "Dirt".

BS: Heidi, did you ever expect your work to be so successful?

HT: As self-inflated as this sounds, I did expect to be successful in what I'm doing, but mostly because I can be stubborn and hard-headed, or determined if it is to be put a better way.

I had a true belief in becoming successful in art, although I am so much more critical of my work now, that I have no idea how it got anywhere in the first place. It goes to show the importance of youthful naivete and impetuousness – I had been given "motherly advice" by a gallery owner upon starting out, not to become an artist, and even my own father who had made me believe I could do anyting tried to advise me against it when I decided it was the path I wanted to take.

I have a collage painting I did made up of so many rejection letters I received over the years, with larger block-letters cut out in the style of an extortion letter, demanding $10,000 or the painting would get it.

BS: When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

HT: After a bad working experience as a waitress in the Yukon. From then on I decided I wanted to work for myself, and I slowly realised art (initially illustration) was the thing which would allow me to do this.

BS: Heidi, on average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

HT: Anywhere from a few days for a five by seven inch piece, to one or two months for a five by seven foot piece.

BS: What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

HT: My most important exhibition experience...that's hard to say because each one (solo show that is) has had some major impact somehow, either through the attendance of important people, or sales, or visibility.

In 2004 there was a huge blowout event for an exhibition of my work, which garnered enough sales as to seemingly prompt the gallery to change the diretion of what they were showing. It appeared that edgier art was a viable sell in the market they cater to, so they have gone in the direction of the lowbrow genre, with L Autre Gallerie.

In 2005 I had a show of experiemental work at the world headquarters of the Cirque du Soleil, where I was later invited to give a private tour of the somewhat large and complex exhibition to Bono and a few of his band members.

BS: Heidi, do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

HT: I listen to anything that fits my mindset for the moment, from talk radio to movie soundtracks, or a very ecclectic array of musical genres. I am almost always in the mood for working, but there are so many other things I'd like to do as well, that at times it becomes a struggle to focus on just painting.

BS: Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

HT: I began with watercolor as a child, then by the age of 20 I clumsily moved to acrylics. It was later on suggested to me that I try oil painting, which I began by the age of 27. They are all so different, and it was very funny to see the initial struggle to transition from each one.

BS: Heidi, are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

HT: I am represented by Thompson Landry gallery in Toronto, and Yves Laroche (L Autre Gallery) in Montreal. My next show is scheduled for May 2006 at Thompson Landry in Toronto.

BS: Heidi, what was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

HT: The toughest point was probably around 2001, when things appeared to be going askew, but in retrospect were just realigning themselves. Everything seemed to go wrong, I'd move to a new studio space and discover I had to leave 6 months after settling in, then money would be tight and things would break down, illulstration clients would either default on payments or it was a nightmare chasing after money owed. All the while I'd hear from someone I had done work for from time to time, and for a couple of years he kept asking what I was doing with my art. I said I was busy doing illustration, and he kept reminding me that time flies, and that I was neglecting something very important by not focusing on it 100%.

I decided to move away from illustration, in part because of all the mysterious problems I was having logistically, and it was the best thing I could have done. Everything happens for a reason -including breaking my painting arm way out in the northwest corner of India.

BS: In one sentence... why do you create art?

HT: To understand myself and life.

BS: Heidi, does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

HT: I'd say that as of today, there is a philosophical or spiritual role in my art for sure. I used to be a staunch atheist, back when I did the more mechanical images, but as my perspective changed so did the work, as well as my circumstances funnily enough.

I admit to having always been interested in the mysteries of the occult, but I'd say if you decide to acknowledge that there is some weird element which weaves itself through the fabric of life, and trust that it's intentions are good, and be observant of what is around you, and take heed of the helpful things and messages given to you through either the advice of a friend or some random tidbit, and be patient, then I'd say one could find evidence of something bigger than what appears on the surface.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

HT: My art is a meditation, a confrontation, and an exorcism all in one, a method by which I come to understand myself, everything and everyone around me. I am deeply concerned with growth, evolution, and the purpose and impact of our existence. I think harmony is the new rebellion, although I do throw myself into situations which challenge me past the point of reasonable equilibrium at times. I think this is how I confront deeper and darker issues, which force me to tease out and resolve fundamental questions, through painting.

You can learn more about Heidi Taillefer by visiting her website-- www.heiditaillefer.com. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews. Heidi is involved with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Amazing interview and even more amazing images. Thanks Brian!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for taking the time to host your interview with Heidi. As an art lover, I own pieces from well known artists such as Picasso and Dali. I can truly say that I enjoy no pieces more than I enjoy any of the pieces by Heidi Taillefer. Although sometimes I would like her to take the mechanical sense past the focus of a piece and into the background as well, I have never encountered a piece of her work that has not evoked some sort of emotion. I simply cannot say enough about how talented this young lady is. I was unaware that Thompson Landry Gallery was representing her. Anyone up for a road trip?

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Your way of expressing ideas is cute! I would definitely like to read some more posts.