Friday, August 17, 2007

Art Space Talk: Heather Wilcoxon

Heather Wilcoxon has been practicing the art of painting for over 20 years. Her paintings, drawings, monotypes and works on paper are commentaries about our current global situation. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions in New York, Houston, Denver and San Francisco. She has taught Painting and Monoprinting at the San Francisco Art Institute, College of Marin, California College of the Arts, Graduate Mentor Program, San Francisco Center for the Book, and is currently teaching at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. Heather has also won several awards and grants- including two grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.

Brian Sherwin: Heather, at what point did you know that you wanted to be a painter? Can you recall any childhood memories or influences that set you on the path toward embracing art as a major part of your life?

Heather Wilcoxon: All my life I have been an artist. But it wasn't until I was 36 that I got serious. After receiving my MFA, I never looked back. When I was a child my mother took me to see Willem De Kooning and I know that made a profound impact on me at that time. I will never forget that that experience.

BS: Heather, you studied Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. From the school you obtained a BFA and MFA. Who were your mentors at that time?

HW: Sam Tchakalian, who taught me never to be afraid of your images and to to think and not to think. To let go. To be passionate and honest in your work. He was the biggest influence on me. He was hard and nasty and raw. No Bull shit. ! He challenged me. Over and over again. And I did terrible paintings. Fred Martin, saw something there in my work and was very supportive. Pagan Brooke taught me about edges. Angela Davis taught me integrity. But Sam pushed me into being a painter.

BS: Heather, you have been practicing the art of painting for over 20 years. Your work often serves as a form of commentary about our global situation. Have you always focused on this theme? Also, can you recall any global events that have had a major impact on your work?

HW: After Graduate school, my work took awhile to find itself. It went from figurative to abstract and back again. My content was very personal for a long time. But It has always had some kind of underlining social message. As my work matured ( along with me) It became less about "ME" and more about how I viewed the outside world. And then 911 happened. The world changed and so did my work.

BS: Heather, you taught Painting and Monoprinting at the San Francisco Art Institute, College of Marin, California College of the Arts, Graduate Mentor Program, San Francisco Center for the Book, and are currently teaching at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. Can you tell our readers about your teaching philosophy? What is the best way for a student to learn? Also, how do you balance the role of being an instructor while also being a devoted painter? Do you ever find it difficult... or feel as if one is suffering due to the other?

HW: Teaching is just passing on knowledge. I give students tools and then let them find themselves. I want to encourage younger artists to see in their own way , through their own feelings, their own vision. I try to inspire risk and and letting go of fear. And in turn, they teach me patience and give me knew ideas. Its a give and take situation. Painting take years to learn. It never stops actually. The best way for a student to learn is by doing, and doing, and doing. Painting is a practice like Yoga. Because I have never taught-full time, I have spent much more time in the studio than teaching. It becomes very introspective working alone all the time. So teaching is a way for me to give back. To be with other artists. To engage. Which I need. But my painting comes first and always will. The only problem that can be difficult is financial. I don't have a regular income. And selling the work is extremely unreliable!!! But my attitude is either the tide is in or out. ( Thank god for grants!)

BS: Heather, I've read that you spent several years of painting and searching for your own visual voice. As you know, many grad students are entering the core of the artworld straight out of college- earning high profits for their work. Do you think this art-star mentality is dangerous for both the recent grads and the artworld as a whole? Would you suggest that recent grads spend a few years finding themselves instead of thinking about material success?

HW: My answer is YES and YES!!!

BS: You have earned a Pollock/Krasner Grant (1999). Two Marin Arts Council Grants (1991-1998)- As well as a Djerassi Artist in Residence Fellowship in Woodside California. Do you have any suggestions for artists who hope to have this same form of success?

HW: Keep applying!!! I just received my second Pollock/Krasner Award. And my 3rd Marin Arts Council Grant. But its really about the work and your commitment and writing a good proposal.

BS: Heather, you have had a long-time preoccupation with the balance between abstraction and the narrative. Can you go into further detail about what you have discovered during your studies? Perhaps you could reveal brief insight into your artistic process?

HW: I draw a lot. Everyday in my little black books. Several years ago I learned how to transfer these drawings onto my paintings. So I was able to combine both the abstract with my little narrative characters. I also love to build a rich and a thick juicy surface underneath the paint. To me its always what is covered up that makes it interesting. I never know what I am painting. I might strike out several images before I make a home run, so to speak. Each painting is like traveling to another country. Each painting is its own experience. My process is different each time.

BS: You have stated that you, "see the world as a dangerous place", but at the same time you are "seasoned enough to see the absurdity of it all"... can you go into more detail about this view. Would you say that you are a bit of a cynic with what you convey? Or is it more about revealing a message... or visual language... that people often hold back for the sake of social grace... so to speak?

HW: We have to laugh at ourselves and how ridiculous we humans can be. So I wouldn't say that I was a cynic in my work. It 's more about visual eye candy for me. But I also think that most people don't want to deal with their emotional feelings. It scares them. Especially in our society. We live in a very clean and organized world. I like to mess things up a bit. Wake you up. Get your attention. Take you out of your grey space. And make you react in some way.

BS: In a sense, some of your work lures the viewer in with 'happy' colors and 'pretty' surfaces. Upon further observation they discover the grit behind the gold. Have you ever offended viewers with your playful deception? If so, do you think that says something about people and how they view our world... as in... most of us do not want to see the 'ugly'?

HW: Humm, Yes... I once had my painting slashed. But that was a long time ago. Most people are in a hurry and don't spend the time to look beyond the cuteness. So I would agree with you in that they don't want to see the "UGLY".

BS: Heather, Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle compared your work to that of painter Squeak Carnwath... is that a fair observation of your work?

HW: He is just one art critic. They always have to compare your work with another artist. I am much nastier then Squeak. But I will say that both of us spend time with our surfaces. And we both use Yellow.

BS: Now... on to more influences... who has influenced you through the years? Can you name some artists who have had an impact on your art?

HW: Phillip Guston, Jean- Michel Basquait and De Kooning and Inez Storer.

BS: What is your studio like? Do you have any unique conditions that must be met in order to start working? Studio habits... total silence.... blaring music... what is it like to be in the studio of Heather Wilcoxon?

HW: My studio is very messy. I don't have a maid. Things pile up. I love listening to folk music or silence. I collect, toys and junk. My work space is small about 450 square ft. But it has a nice skylight. Its just a room were I paint.

BS: Heather, do you have any advice or suggestions for painters who are just starting out? Any tips on how to approach galleries or what to look out for...

HW: The most important thing is the work!!! Look for galleries that are honest and pay their artists. As well as how they treat you. It's like any relationship. Some are good relationships and some are bad. As far as getting into galleries. That is tough. Most of the time they never look at slides or CV's . Its really by word of mouth through other artists in the gallery.

BS: Are you represented by a gallery at this time? Where can our readers observe your work? Also, do you have any upcoming exhibits?

HW: Brenda Taylor Gallery- New York, Thomas Paul Fine Art- Los Angeles, Toomey-Tourell Gallery- San Francisco. Or they can go to my site and go to from my site for more recent work. I just had three shows this summer. A solo at Brenda Taylor Gallery in New York, Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafael and the Bank of America Building in San Francisco.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Care to reveal anything about your current body of work?

HW: I am just gathering my wits from all these shows ( no sales) But my work will be in several art fairs in Miami this December as well as London this fall.

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

HW: It is all about who you know, luck and timing. The art world can eat you a live if your not careful!!
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Heather Wilcoxon. You can learn more about Heather and her art by visiting her website: You will find a list of interviews with both emerging and established artists by clicking on the following link:
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


KATE BROWN said...


Anonymous said...

When You said,"the art world can eat you alive if you are not careful", what do you mean- you personally can do that?

Anonymous said...

... great paintings, beautiful paintings ... I congratulate talent ... :)
The great joy has made me see your work ...