Briefly describe the work that you do.
My work explores atmosphere, light, and spatial illusion through a materialistic painting process. I am interested in the constant flux of the visual world, and our temporary space within it. Through reductive abstraction I synthesize memories and photographs I have taken into multilayered compositions.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be an artist. When I was a child I would spend hours painting and drawing. I was fascinated by colors, and obsessed with how to portray on paper, what I saw in the world around me. Once, when I was about 4 years old, I went through an entire pad of paper trying to correctly draw my canary sitting on his swing. Fortunately, I have two very supportive parents who provided me with a steady supply of materials to learn and experiment with. I am forever grateful to them for their encouragement and for never questioning my need to make art.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As a child, I was surrounded by creativity on a daily basis. I was raised by a singer- songwriter and a recording engineer. When I was 6 we moved from Los Angeles to the Nashville area in order for my parents to pursue their musical careers. Nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock and dislocation that resulted. The area we moved to was a relatively undeveloped, and I was fascinated by the nature in my new home. Sadly, however, in the coming years I watched the open fields transform into tightly packed suburbs. This has had a huge impact on my understanding of how human beings interact with the landscape. I have also always lived in places that have spectacular sunsets, usually the result of air pollution. My memories of what these places used to look like, are now over-layed with the existing realities. This sense of never quite being able to locate oneself, in an ever-shifting landscape is present in my work today.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
My work deals with the boundaries between abstraction and representation. I am interested in how representational images can become abstracted through distortions of light and space. The visual world is in constant flux, and the struggle to capture something just on the edge of perception is what drives me to paint. Because I work somewhat reductively, materiality has become a very important part of my paintings. In recent years I have developed a very specific process that involves painting on multiple layers of paper and translucent polyester mesh. This process allows me to explore
illusionism both in paint and in actual space. The resulting images are a combination of blurry, atmospheric forms and distorted shadows that lie beneath washes of color, and intense passages of light.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I have always worked rather cyclically in the studio. I go through periods in which I can’t seem to stop the flow of ideas, and then others where going to the studio can feel almost daunting. I do believe that showing up is half the work. For me it is important to go to the studio even when I am not in a period of high production. Although these times can be difficult, staying visually alert is helpful and necessary. I am also highly motivated by the materiality of my processes. I usually spend my slower periods experimenting with new techniques. Therefore, I have to physically get my hands on things to start solving problems. I am also very lucky to have fantastic and supportive studio mates. Being a part of a great community of artists is incredibly motivating.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
I am very influenced by the paintings of William Turner. I love the way that atmosphere and light become vehicles for abstracting the landscapes in his work. I am also fascinated by the way that atmosphere and light often overshadow the disturbing events that lie just beneath them (think “The Slave Ship”). When I was in graduate school I visited Dia:Beacon and it changed my entire perspective on art. I had unexpectedly strong perceptual reactions to the works of Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin that are housed there. It was a pivotal moment in my development as an artist. I am also very interested in the work of contemporary artists such as Katharina Grosse and Prudencio Irazabal. I make it a point to see as much art in person as I possibly can. There is always something new to learn from the work of others.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I teach at several locations at this point in my career, so that takes up a good deal of my time. However, teaching is for me a natural extension of my studio practice, and I greatly enjoy that aspect of my work. I also enjoy reading, gardening in the East Tennessee soil, practicing yoga, the company of my loved ones and my two awesome dogs.
Heather Hartman was born in Los Angeles, California in 1983. In December of
1989 her family moved to Tennessee, and Hartman was deeply impacted by the atmosphere, weather, and constantly changing skies in her new home. She attended Auburn University and received her Bachelors of Fine Art in 2005. She earned a Master of Fine Art with a concentration in Painting and Drawing at the University of Tennessee in 2009. Her work has been featured in shows throughout the country. She recently won an Honorable Mention at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Artist on Location Exhibition. Her work has been written about by Dr. Jerry Cullum of Art Papers, and is in the collection of Auburn University. She is a member of the Vacuum Shop Artists Collaborative in Knoxville. Hartman teaches at Walters State Community College, Roane State Community, and will begin teaching at Carson Newman University in the Fall of 2014. Hartman lives and works in Knoxville, Tennessee.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.