Friday, September 07, 2007

Art Space Talk: Heather Hutchison

Heather Hutchison is a very humble artist considering the fact that she has gained great success in New York City. Her work has been featured in ARTnews, Art in America, and several other publications. By applying tinted beeswax in horizontal bands to Plexiglass panels, Hutchison creates see-through paintings that are subtle, yet contain the powerful essence of nature. These panels are attached to wooden frames that create a form of controlled atmosphere. In my opinion, these works reflect the conflict that results from aspects of the natural world when they are contained-- there is certain tension about this work. In the end-- through the force of light-- nature dominates.

Brian Sherwin: Heather, can you tell us about your youth? When did you decide to pursue art? Can you recall any early experiences or events that directed you on this path? Also, who were your early mentors?

Heather Hutchison: My father was a caricaturist. Early on my parents, my two brothers and I would travel every six months from Arizona to Oregon and back again visiting with his artist friends while he did "the circuit." My parents then decided to settle down, and from ages six through thirteen I lived with my family in a grand old hotel we owned called, "The Copper Queen," in Bisbee, Arizona six miles North of the Mexican border.It was the early 1970's and people were seeking refuge in this small burgeoning artist colony from "yuppies". They were pouring in from places that they felt were already being ruined like Aspen, San Francisco, Marin County, and New York, lots of guys coming out of Viet Nam as well... as a young kid I was aware that it was a a time of massive change.

I feel fortunate for the amount of freedom living in the hotel afforded me, it was in the center of the town, which is built like a European village, nestled a mile high in the mountains-- everything within walking distance. I developed inspiring friendships with many interesting adults, visionaries, writers, artists,and hippies. I would spend time with them in their studios and homes independent of my family. Having been influenced by all of these artist's lifestyles and witnessing their work practices, I began a studio practice before I was ten years old. The hotel and our other properties gave me an enormous amount of space, enabling me to set up a studio.

I was lucky to grow up knowing that I had come from at least four generations of professional artists and to have it reinforced throughout my whole life that being an artist is a valid lifestyle choice. I was so convinced that I didn't see the need for art school. This wasn't because I thought I knew everything-- I still know nothing-- but, because I had learned through experience that being an artist meant having original vision, and at eighteen I couldn't imagine how being confined to an institution with hundreds of other inexperienced youths who were being taught by the same handful of teachers could help that much in attaining originality. If I'd been thinking about a career back then I would have tried to get into Yale.
BS: Heather, you have been reviewed by ARTnews, Art in America, The New York Times, and several other publications. How do you feel when your work is selected for coverage? Do you get excited? Nervous?

HH: I usually feel hopeful that a critic is going to write something that will help me to see my work from a different perspective, that it will teach me something about what I am doing, and then I am often disappointed that it doesn't enlighten me at all. I suppose that is something I could have gotten over by getting crits in art school.

BS: Heather, your Minimalist work often reminds viewers of the natural elements of nature- light, ice, water and earth. Are you influenced by nature?

HH: Yes, to borrow from Pollock, "I am nature" and I am coming back into being more nature as I grow closer to returning to dust. This is the world I, and every other art making, art viewing human exist in... I think it is impossible to escape the influence of nature even if the work isn't recognizably "nature based," it is-- it can't help it. But, yes I do embrace that metaphor. I am working to make it be not such an easy one to come to... sometimes I can't resist.
BS: For those not familiar with your art, what do you strive to convey in your work?

HH: It seems that whenever I consciously "try" to convey anything it is a disaster, self-conscious, and I avoid doing that. Sometimes people don't notice my paintings at all, sometimes they are extremely moved. I think it all depends on what the viewer brings to the viewing experience, no matter what your looking at.

Heather Hutchison- Black & Light (2007)120 x 240 inches, site specific, fabric & paint

BS: Heather, for over twenty years, you have developed a visual language that utilizes components of painting- light, color and depth. You combine these methods convey a sense of emotion, memory and the passage of time- with a focus on translucent media. Where do you see your work going next? Also, What are you working on at this time?

HH: In July I finally created an installation I have ruminated on for the last 13 years. I had organized an exhibition in Woodstock, New York (I have been curating lately), the curatorial focus being artists in different medium that limit their palette to black and light. When it came to planning the hanging I realized that the show needed something to regulate the light that was coming in to the space... this was a push and an opportunity to realize this long desired installation.

I utilized a large window covering it with layers of different translucent materials... and painting the wall to recede, the end result being a completely flat field of light that was constantly changing with the movement of the daylight, sun going behind clouds, buildings, etc. I collaborated with videographer Dean Janoff and we made a 24hour time-lapsed video condensed into 3 minutes that I am very pleased with. Both the video and the installation are fixed yet constantly changing-- that is something I would like my other pieces to do... the paintings/ sculptures I am making since July have learned from that experience. I am working on having the opportunity to realize more of these window pieces in public spaces-- I can do them most anywhere.
BS: I assume that creating art is a constant form of exploration for you... correct?
HH: Correct.

BS: Heather, Elanor Heartney (ARTnews) stated that your work demonstrates some similarities with the work of Eva Hesse and Christopher Wilmarth in that your manner of Minimalism often enhances the use of metaphor instead of taking away from it. Do you agree with that statement?

HH: Definitely, that was one of the writings that I actually learned something from.

BS: Heather, your work sometimes deals with religious or metaphysical concerns. Would you say that you are a spiritual person? If so, how does that spirituality enter your artistic practice?

HH: You could say that I am spiritual. I don't have a rigid ritualistic practice-- I've tried, but once again I start questioning the conformity. I have always just been looking for answers. My study and experience of religion is usually focused on the the philosophy of the religion. My artistic practice, my studio, and now raising a human being (my son) are what is most sacred to me. It is in the studio and through the meditative practice of making work that I feel I have come closest to any truths.
BS: Heather, can you tell us about your other influences? What artists or art movements have influenced your art?

HH: Another by-product of being self-taught... when I started working with translucency and light in 1988 I wasn't aware of the California Light and Space Movement-- in 1990 a dealer from L.A. turned me on to it.I am inspired by, and feel I am working parallel to, much of that work. Later, after making work that is a direct result of process and application for about ten years I discovered that there was a Process Art movement. It is reassuring to me to have other artists share my obsessions-- I feel less crazy.

The minimalism that was being created at about the time I was born (early sixties) has resonated the longest and most consistently with me. Major influences and inspiration from other artists in chronological order since my early twenties: Album art, Magritte, Hopper, Guy Pene du Bois, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Joseph Amar, Christopher Wilmarth, Menardo Rosso, Turner, Camille Corot, Corbet, Giovanni Bellini, Giorgio Morandi, Robert Irwin.

BS: Heather, where else do you draw inspiration from?

HH: I believe I am obsessed with particular horizontal divisions of space that for some reason resonate with me, I can also be transfixed by the movement of water and light. Raw materials really turn me on as well.

BS: Tell us about your work space... what is your studio like?

HH: I have two great studios, One in DUMBO Brooklyn that has big windows that look at the city, the Manhattan Bridge, and the River. The other is in Woodstock, NY where we have had a home for 12 years. For the last five years it has been our primary residence, we are in the woods on a private dirt road that no one drives up... we turned a large post and beam pole-barn into studios, my husband paints upstairs and I have the bottom floor. It is only 30 feet from the house.

We have an eight year old son and at this time in my life keeping the balance between the home and the studio feels right to me. I will be working and while something is drying I run in to the house and start some soup.While that is cooking I will go back in to the studio and continue working on a piece. We originally came to the country because I was feeling that our life in New York City was out of balance, with too much emphasis on the self-referential art world and having a "career," not enough awareness about the life we were living.

I am happy to be up here having a family and an extremely high quality lifestyle... in the long run it is important for the work. I have realized that I am in it for the long run and having distance (2 hours) on the artworld allows me to be happy, refreshed, and non-competitive when I am in the heart of it.
BS: What are the conditions you need in order to create? For example, do you work in silence or do you listen to music? Do you work alone or do you prefer company?

HH: I work alone. I can go through a certain amount of the process with someone in the studio or working with me, but the point where the piece is actually coming to it's own has to be done in solitude-- usually with one CD (probably Bob Dylan) playing over and over to the point where I can't really even hear it anymore it just becomes part of me, like my heart beat.

BS: Heather, tell us more about your artistic process. How do you start a piece? When do you know that it is done?

HH: Without a pre-conceived idea of what the work will be I start by deciding the dimensions of the plywood box, and whether or not to build multiple panels. I build my own forms from Birch plywood that I rip into boards on the table-saw. I choose the boards for their grain and warp. Then I mount and route the Plexiglas. After the form is done I start applying color to the inside of the box and the surface of the Plexi. It is in finding the right balance of the inside and surface color that will give me the overall color(s).

Once the color is determined I scrape it back down and begin playing with composition I apply the color to the composition until it is a painting/sculpture, meaning that it can stand on it's own as a painting/sculpture and it transcends looking like a piece of furniture or a light fixture. This can sometimes take months to determine... I let things hang out to see if they pass the test of time. Sometimes things will come back to the studio years later and I will rework them-- they didn't pass. I think everyone does that.BS: Heather, where can our readers view your art in person? Also, are you involved with any upcoming exhibitions?

HH: I am represented in Manhattan by Margaret Thatcher at 511 W. 25th st., she usually has something up in the back-- she will be taking my work to the 07 art fair in London and Pulse in Miami. I'll be having a solo show at the gallery in a year or so, date yet to be determined. We are pretty good about keeping upcoming shows posted on my website

BS: Heather, do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out? Perhaps you have some suggestions for seeking gallery representation or issues that emerging artists should be aware of in the artworld?

HH: I have noticed that success has to do with luck, working as hard as you can, and bugging people until you get what you want. If possible, arrange for, or marry someone with, a sizable trust fund. I am lucky, but not lucky enough to have a trust fund... I have been working for years on being able to bug people-- but I am just too sensitive. I have been training my son since he was born to be lucky by constantly pointing out his good fortune, it is all in your self-perception.

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

HH: Yes Brian, since you asked, I think it is imperative to the future of contemporary art that the artworld (artmarket) remember that it was started by and would not exist without artists.

You can learn more about Heather Hutchison by visiting her website: You can view my other interviews by clicking on the following link:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Heather, that was inspirational.