by Til Will
According to Angela Heisch, only the person who begins a painting can decide how to finish it. I arrived to a room full of decisive paintings; iconic, hard-edge abstractions seeming to have rolled effortlessly out of the last. She knew what the next painting would be. She appeared to have reached absolute freedom from the anxieties of critique, depending solely on instinct.
I was able to visit her Sunset Park studio in October and we discussed her rapid transition from large acrylic paintings into a distinct new series of small gouache paintings. She hit her stride with these works in September, and since then she has amassed a language of symbols that swim in fields of red, tan, and subdued greens. There is a remarkable sense of balance. Compositions toe the line of symmetry; two shapes stare each other down from opposing sides that look the same but aren’t quite. There’s some kind of magic in this discordance, like a choreographed dance that’s not quite in sync.
After years of what she described as unplanned paintings, with no clear indication of where it was going or where it would end up, Heisch is taking a new approach with new rules. Now, there is always a preliminary sketch and a clear finish line. Last month she was busy –residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, solo exhibition at No Place Gallery in Columbus, OH, and a group show at Ess Eff Eff in Brooklyn. But it sounds like this kind of schedule is nothing new for her. In October we spoke about distraction, color choice, acrylic vs. oil, and most importantly the ‘lozenge.’ Here is our interview from Oct. 28:
Til Will: We talked a little bit about the weather, and how you enjoy the winter. This brought us to a discussion of the urge that people have to be outside when the weather is nice. I think this also ties into the social aspect of life in general, like “we’re all going to the beach, c’mon!” I have a hard time turning these kinds of things down even when I know I should spend a day working on a project.
How do you avoid these kinds of distractions/do you ever have f.o.m.o. (fear of missing out)?
Angela Heisch: Yeah I’ve always struggled to work in general over the summer, I’m really terrible at slowing myself down as not to overheat. I think it’s the biggest problem in the springtime. After a “long and terrible” winter there’s that implied pressure to go out and enjoy the weather, soak up the sun, etc etc. Summer is so miserable in New York, I don’t feel distracted by anything other than how bloody hot and uncomfortable to move around it is. This past summer, I’ve been waking up reasonably early (early by nobody else’s standards but my own), bolting to the studio, and dialing up the AC, so I can get to work pretty quickly. Endless summer days are hard in general, slow movements and air conditioning are dire needs.
TW: We also had a discussion about how people tend to consider oil paintings as more of an accomplishment than acrylics for no reason. The fact is that acrylic paints are a far more efficient medium, and they won’t kill you.
Why do you think people have this bias, and what are your thoughts on acrylic vs. oil?
AH: I really love oil paint and honestly wish I could use it, the slow drying time just hasn’t made sense for the way I make my paintings. There’s definitely a bias; I’ve heard heaps of oil painters refer to acrylic paint as “kiddie paint”, and something they would never go near. There is this thinking that oil paint is the only paint you can really layer; I’ve struggled with that thought, worried it was true, all that. The biggest problem with acrylic paint is it’s surface. It’s the first thing you notice, often before the actual painting, or the color, so it becomes a little distracting. It doesn’t really breathe either, and as far as layering paint, even with medium, the color it always ends up reading a little flat. All that being said, after, I’ve grown extremely impatient from years of drawing, for me, elements in my paintings need to dry fast because I move through my paintings pretty quickly. The biggest thing for me has been learning to take acrylic paint and use it for it’s strengths.
TW: Why do you call your trademark elongated black oval in a red rectangle a “lozenge”? Why is it always the same color? These rules you use to limit yourself are fascinating to me. Why do you have these rules?
AH: The “lozenge” term came out of grad school. I was making these large drawings featuring these shapes, and needed to call them something associative but not really all that specific. Originally these lozenges were life size, just about as tall or a bit taller than a person, so their presence was a bit more confrontational. I still think of them actually as larger than they appear, even though they’re all featured now in these itty bitty paintings. My small paintings are intended to be glimpses of scenes that are life sized, so these lozenge shapes could be read as a number of things; figure, column, shadow, doorway, void, etc.) They always exist in red space because I love the urgency of the color red, the specific associations that come to mind when we see this color. I also just love the color combination of red and black, can’t seem to get away from it.
The color restrictions I’ve given myself are mostly intended to provide the viewer with some sense of narrative or origin. This only really makes sense when looking at the paintings in a group. Like, in one group of paintings, you might notice the atmosphere is always turquoise and purple, in others, it’s a warmer orange or red. The same applies to the repetitive use of organic, geometric, and architectural shapes throughout the paintings.
TW: Who/what motivates you to make art?
AH: Nothing more than actually making art, and what’s discovered through painting is enough motivation in and of itself. It’s something I need to do and have gotten so used to, it’s how I work through most everything. Other artists; there’s just so much great work being made, it serves as a constant motivation and support system.