Monoscenic Narratives: An interview with painter Andrea Heimer
Art — 18.08.16
Words: Molly Taylor
What first drew you to painting? And how did you learn?
I taught myself to paint, in fact, I didn’t have any art-making instruction beyond high school. Painting, in particular, attracted me due to its nearly limitless possibility. There are so few constraints as to what painting can accomplish in a finished product – I am never concerned I will reach the end of this medium’s potential.
Is there a central idea or theme that connects all of your work?
Much of my work is created from the perspective of an adult adoptee whose records are sealed, meaning I have no access to my own birth or family records. In most cases, the paintings are highly personal autobiographical narratives dealing with various aspects of my situation. My narratives speak to feelings of detachment and outsider versus insider status, familial disconnection, and my own stumbling utopian ideals in creating a strong family of my own choosing.
The wilds of Montana – wolves, tornados, plants – feature a lot in your work. Why this setting?
I was born in Montana and lived there until my earlier twenties. It is a gorgeously rough place aesthetically speaking. There are miles of flat plains cut through by the Rocky Mountains and just endless blue overhead — cities seem so out of place in that environment like they were dropped out of the sky. It seems the language of where we grow up tends to stick with us into adulthood, and Montana definitely stuck with me.
The distinctly poetic titles of your paintings often to refer to the activities of adolescents – for example ‘The Hot Springs Was A Place The Neighborhood Children Could Go To Forget the Nightmare of Childhood But The Moment Was Fleeting’ (2015). Do you draw these images directly from your own youth? And if so, how do you think about that time?
Much of my work is influenced by the memories and events of my childhood, though my newer work is beginning to focus on more current events as well. Most of my paintings begin with at least a small kernel of an autobiographical narrative, into which I introduce varying degrees of fantasy both to protect myself and others associated with the event or time period. Looking back on it I think, like many people, I have a complicated relationship with my childhood. That time was a kaleidoscope of wonder/fear/heartbreak/confusion, particularly after I found out I was adopted in elementary school. The title of one of my latest paintings sums it up my feelings on this well. It references a sleepover specifically but the sentiment could easily be applied to my entire youth: “My Best Friend & I Had Sleepovers In The Basement & When We Were All Talked Out We Waited For Sleep In Silence Like Two Matching Eardrums & When I Think Of That Now It Seems Like Time Spent In A Foreign Country That I Will Never Return To.”
The paintings themselves use colour fantastically and at first glance seem so joyful, but the titles nod to the presence of a much darker psychological narrative. Can you talk about this tension?
One of my goals as a painter is to make images that are provocative and revealing, but not overtly so. There is a process to reading these paintings. First, the viewer is drawn to work through bright colors and pattern typically associated with something more like folk art. With that expectation, the viewer begins to notice the violence, the shifts in perspective, the unsettling titles. The viewer, realizing the painting is not what they initially expected, switches gears from a passive role to an active one as they search for more clues and connections within the work. Observing this change in a viewer feels successful to me and I love watching it unfold at exhibitions.
What type of conversations do you want your work to stimulate?
I hope my work inspires conversations about how we include and exclude people from our lives, about changing adoption laws, and about depression and mental health issues. I also hope it helps people share secrets.
You can view more of Andrea Heimer’s work at her recent exhibitions listed below:
Maxwell Colette Gallery – Chicago, IL (September 2016)
Escape Routes (group exhibition), John Michael Kohler Arts Center – Sheboygan, WI (August 7 – January 22 2017)
Lindsay Gallery – Columbus, OH (October 2016)
Mark Moore Gallery – Los Angeles, CA (Nov 3 – Dec 23 2016)
Antonio Colombo Gallery – Milan, Italy (November 2016)