Skinny Dip: An Interview with Kelsey Anne Heimerman

Kelsey Anne Heimerman,  Everything is Illuminated , Oil on panel, 60 x 60 inches

Kelsey Anne Heimerman, Everything is Illuminated, Oil on panel, 60 x 60 inches

by Scott Gleeson

The paintings of Texas artist Kelsey Anne Heimerman revel in the materiality of paint. A self-professed “maximalist," Heimerman loads the visual field with painterly flourishes reminiscent of artists as diverse as Pablo Picasso, Stuart Davis, Rosson Crow, Keith Haring, and Elizabeth Murray. Stable compositions featuring fashionably dressed figures, begging dogs, and ornate interiors float amidst large swaths of poured colors. This juxtaposition of representational passages and non-objective mark making establishes a visual tension where recognizable imagery melts into painterly abstraction. Heimerman’s paintings are characterized by youthful exuberance. The artist’s observations of contemporary society flirt with social critiques of decadence while remaining playful, ironic, humorous, and earnest. Having recently been awarded an Artist Mircrogrant from the Nasher Sculpture Center, Heimerman, age 26, is poised to make a significant mark on regional art. Peripheral Vision has caught up with the artist at her studio at Southside on Lamar to discuss her painting practice, influences, and future plans.

You were born to a family of artists. What was it like growing up in a creative environment and how has that experience affected your art and decision to pursue professional practice? 

Some of my sweetest memories are from my childhood. My mother stayed at home and my father was dedicated to his work. A practicing glass artist and a master carpenter, respectively, they always had art supplies around the house, and my earliest memories are of painting. My mother is obsessive about glass blowing, in the best way. She is always talking about new ideas, sketching things out for me, traveling the country to glass conferences, and exploring new concepts. My father is extremely hard working, but still and strong like a mountain. He distilled in me all the truths and foundations I have about the world. My sisters have also influenced my work ethic and visual sensibility: one is a professional photographer, and the other owns a mid-century modern antique glass shop in Venice, Italy, with her husband. They introduce me to the work of some of the most esteemed designers in the world. The photographer never leaves home without her equipment - she is consistently capturing these beautiful moments in people’s lives. My other sister and I talk every day; she is my rock and companion. Now, working as a professional painter, I realize what a profound impact my family has on my life and practice. It allowed painting to be something in my life that is a constant. With painting, no matter where I am at in life I always have a place to come home to. 

Kelsey at the Fort Worth Water Gardens, photo credit Rachel Heimerman 2014

Kelsey at the Fort Worth Water Gardens, photo credit Rachel Heimerman 2014

Not all artists your age pursue their practices with the same degree of professionalism and ambition. Can you describe your educational experience and how your entrepreneurship correlates to your art practice today? 

Everyone in my family went to college after high school, it was the thing you did if you were a Heimerman. I immediately knew I wanted to study painting and completed the exit review at the top of my university class. Towards the end of my degree I pursued a more entrepreneurial path and opened an all-organic, fair trade coffee shop with a business partner at the age of 21. The coffee shop is a success and 2 1/2 years later I was able to manage from afar and be a full time painter. The coffee shop that we named Shift, was my first real world experience in handling all the things that surround the art world, such as partnerships, relationships, finance, and creative design applicable on real world platforms. These systems bled into my painting practice and I began creating spreadsheets, building a client base, and working independently. In a highly competitive market, choosing how, where, and who to show my work to makes all the difference. I like to view the entire practice as an art, not just holding a slick oil brush to a freshly primed panel. I think all the connecting steps are equally important. From the materials used, where materials came from, what your subject is, how it’s displayed, titled and executed, even how the work is sold, shipped, and lives beyond the studio walls. Together these elements form a dance, and hopefully create the transcendent experience I am after. I chose a road less traveled; however, my entrepreneurial spirit has led me to bright places this year and given me a work ethic and understanding of the world that allows me to be completely self made and live off my work at the age of 26.

It is inevitable that our environments and the art we see inform our artistic development. How has living in North Texas shaped the trajectory of your practice?

My biggest influences from North Texas have been the artworks I have grown up with and experienced. My family owns an early David Bates painting and as my work continues to evolve heavier and more luscious brushwork I am reminded of this painting I grew up around. In my time working for Howard Rachofsky I fell in love with the Richard Meier house and modern architecture, as well as many works in the Rachofsky Collection, including Louise Bourgeois' The Cell, Gerhard Richter's Stadtbild Mu, and Marlene Dumas' The Confrontation. These works caused me to pause either for the technical application, the gaunt portraiture that appears like a memory or Louise Bourgeois' exquisite ability to create whole narratives with small spaces of metal, glass, mirrors and precious materials. At the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth I always say hello to my favorite painter Francis Bacon; his black self-portrait never grows old. I've always admired his ability to use such little medium to convey such a strong portrait of humanity. In Houston my favorite place to visit is the Philip Johnson’s Rothko Chapel. I find Rothko’s works move me differently as presented in the Chapel space. I love the idea of integrating monumental paintings into a sacred architecture to create a contemplative space; I experience a sense of stillness every time I experience it. 

Working in the coffee industry put me in contact with other important friends in the art world. I served Dallas Museum of Art curator Gavin Delahunty and art conservators Fran Bass and Laura Hartman. All of them showed me such kindness and would invite me out to the DMA private events. Winning the Nasher Sculpture Center Artist Microgrant allowed me to share and show my work with some other very influential people such as Anette Lawerence, Anna Smith, Leigh Arnold, Frances Bagley, Mai-Thu Perret, and John Pomara. I was very honored and thankful for this opportunity as it has given my emerging career some foundation. I often open my studio in Dallas to galleries, art lovers, and sometimes people who just find me though social media. I am always willing to do private showings if I have the time. Recently, Gail Sachson stopped in and was very impressed with the work and my story. I am excited about the growing opportunity here in Texas and also look forward to national and international opportunities. Through all of my endeavors in finding my way into the art world I must credit my friends, family, and first ever mentor Jim Burton for always believing in me and keeping my dreams alive.

Kelsey Anne Heimerman,  System  (2015), Oil on panel, 72 x 48 inches

Kelsey Anne Heimerman, System (2015), Oil on panel, 72 x 48 inches

Your painting style includes both abstraction and figuration. Traditionally, critical discourses present these means of image making in oppositional terms. How did you arrive at your personal style and how do you reconcile the tension between representational techniques?

As a child I painted objects, usually flowers, people, animals, or cities in mixed media. When I began to study art history and contemporary painting I became obsessed with the application of paint. I thought the "true painter" would create paintings only focusing on formal qualities of painting, so I removed all imagery from my work. For three years I only focused on color, technique, texture, and composition. In the third year of my degree, I slowly began incorporating the objects, animals, and people that I loved into my abstract compositions. I would have a dangling heap of abstract mark making in this carefully rendered style next to a chandelier, in a room with a dog in the foreground. These works began different conversations about how abstract space mingles with physical realities. When it comes to defining and describing moments of awe and wonder that can often be experienced in the presence of great works of art, my thoughts lead with a scientific lens. I often marvel at the world’s oddities and apply an analytical viewpoint towards them. For me the abstract world is the inner world of the self that everyone experiences on his or her own terms. In my work I use abstract brushstrokes and mark making next to figures and objects to portray this conduit between the abstract world and the physical. I like to portray my contemporary spaces with a distorted sense of perspective, filled with people, objects, and animals to create a contemporary iconography. The painting style I have created often breaks forms about in a luscious style of cubism, while also introducing very fluid marks that drip throughout more precise forms. I enjoy the juxtaposition of the bleeding paint mingling with something meticulously applied. I use brush strokes to convey abstractions, putting things that are not real in physical spaces on a 2D surface. Often people that view my work say with every visit they see something new and that as the work grows on them the paintings really convey how they feel about contemporary society. I simply want to paint the things, people, patterns, and spaces that I love. Sometimes I will touch on political concepts as I emerge further into adulthood and see it necessary to talk about the more serious things that are happening. It reinforces my drive to paint and leaves behind a melting pot of visuals for people to consider. 

Now that you are gaining momentum building an audience and market for your paintings, what are your plans for developing your practice in the near future?

Recently, to expand my conceptual horizons I have been exploring humanity and nature. The last month I have spent traveling the classic American West and hiking the Dolomites in Italy. I am continuing to increase the scale of my work and am researching artist residencies near and in national parks. It's a slow climbing stretch for me, full of methodical lists, exploration and study in the hopes to push the boundaries of painting further and further. I am growing in my technique, skill and content and continuing to seek out more prestigious connections and homes for the work I am creating.

Learn more about Kelsey on her Artist Profile.