Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Carol Heft: NYC


Carol Heft
photo Bill Warfield

Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what  were any early influences on your work? Where do you live now?

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia in the middle 1950’s, the oldest of five children. My mother was a nurse and father was in the food and grocery business.  He (Dad) bought himself an oil painting set when I was about seven years old.  I asked him if I could try it, and he set up a still life which we both painted.  I’ll never forget that experience, though I don’t know what happened to either of the paintings. It was such a lovely memory and gift my father gave me that led to a lifelong love of art. Now I live in New York City, and Bethlehem Pennsylvania. I teach in both places.  My husband, Bill Warfield is a jazz trumpet player and composer as well as a music professor at Lehigh University, which is what brought me out to Bethlehem in 1998. 

Installation sculpture at Blue Mountain Gallery

Large Mosaic in gallery

Did you receive any formal art training?

My art training started when I was about ten years old.  My parents noticed I loved to draw, and let me take lessons with a painter named Anne Tuttle in a local frame shop in Stony Brook, NY.  Anne was a very fine artist, and she used to spend her summers in Connecticut at the Madison Art School where Robert Brackman taught.  She took me along one year, and I went back every year until I was about sixteen. Studying with Brackman, who was a National Academician, and taught at the Art Student’s League in NYC, was an extraordinary gift for such a young student.  Brackman was a protégé of artists like Robert Henri, Thomas Eakins, and George Bellows; American artists who went to Europe to study and then came back to teach in the newly formed art schools here, like the League, and the Philadelphia Academy. That is how I learned about the traditional methods of oil painting that include construction, composition, yellow ochre chiaroscuro under painting, and the building up of translucent darks.  Brackman painted with and a kind of (conservative) neo impressionistic impasto of color and light.  At the same time I attended a public high school that had a printmaking studio with a lithography press etching press.  There I met Gary Stanton, an artist photographer and teacher who encouraged me to continue my studies.  He instilled in me a love for printmaking which endured.  Eventually, I attended the Rhode Island School of Design where I majored in painting, graduated in 1976, and moved to NYC soon thereafter.

At what point in your life did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?

I started drawing at a very young age, but my most vivid memory of art was when I would visit my grandparents, who lived in a small town in New Jersey, Burlington.  Baba (Yiddish for grandmother) would take me along with her when I was 4 or 5 to deliver groceries.  We passed several Catholic churches, which had statues of the Nativity, and of the Holy Family.  I was mesmerized.  I kept waiting for the statues to move, walk around, talk and breathe.

Digital 1

What is your media?

I love drawing and painting, and also have a strong interest in the movement from two to three dimensions, both illusionistic and physical.  Even in art school in the mid seventies, encouraged by Lisa Chase, one of my teachers and Judy Pfaff, who was a visiting instructor, I started working with wire lines coming off the wall, integrated with pencil or charcoal lines, on the wall surface. My favorite materials are paper, charcoal, pencil, crayon, oil pastels and almost any kind of paint.

Digital 4

What is your current work about? 

I love to draw; all kinds of drawing, especially quick gesture drawings of the figure, or the landscape looking out the window. My current work is about an interior world that reflects my experience.  As I mature as an artist, and person, I seem to be increasingly willing and able to allow my intuition to guide me.  I can be very hard on myself and sometimes confuse “perfectionism” with healthy self appraisal.  What matters the most to me though as an artist, is not the final product.  A work of art is a reflection of an experience, as Robert Henri would say, a byproduct.  It is the authenticity of the experience that counts.  If I am present for my drawing, the drawing will have presence.  If I am scattered or thinking about something else, or self conscious, that will show up too.  Art objects are fragments, particles, reflections of human experience.  The quality of the experience is paralleled in the work.  I am involved in an ongoing exploration of materials and how they serve expressive content.  Most of it is figurative, that is, relating to the human figure, either literally or metaphorically, symbolically, and the complex interrelationships we have with and around each other.

sculpture in progress in studio

What is your workspace like? If you have photos of where you work that would be of interest.

I live in my studio, in the middle of Manhattan, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  I love to draw the city looking out the window. The first time I did this, looking up Ninth Avenue from my window on the nineteenth floor, it was to demonstrate one point perspective for my drawing students.  I became so fascinated I started studying Canaletto’s drawings and made more drawings, looking out other windows…it really gave me an enriched appreciation for the city, how much there is to see and how selective we are, as artists in what we see and find meaningful.  It’s inspiring to live here; the energy of the city can be both exhausting and energizing all at once.

the other side of the studio

Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?

I am a member of the Blue Mountain Gallery, one of the oldest cooperative galleries in New York City.  I have found this affiliation to be rewarding in many ways.  It has enabled me to meet other artists and be of service in a community of like-minded professionals, without the constraints of commercial galleries’ agendas or politics.  

Interestingly, however, one of the most significant communities I have become part of is the global community of artists on Facebook.  It has changed my life.  First, the knowledge that people are looking at my work gives me great satisfaction.  Otherwise, why would I make it?  I need to share my work and ideas with other artists, and want to listen and see what they are doing too.  It’s like a global classroom.  I often share my research in albums on Facebook, and take advantage of the albums that other artists and educators compile there.  It’s very open, democratic, and I have met many artists from all over the world, whose work I would otherwise never have seen, and this is of critical importance to me.

studio table

studio view, sculpture

How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

As I mentioned before, my strongest sense of community comes from my Facebook friendships with other artists.  I have written essays about other artists’ work, and try to gear my comments to both self awareness, and keying in on what a particular artist is saying, doing.  The only universal criterion that is important to me is authenticity.  If a work is genuine, there is a truth about it that will resonate and will go beyond skill, technique, materials or subject.  At least I’ve found this to be the case for myself.

Digital 6

Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?

I have had to learn to stop and go quite a bit because of my teaching schedule.  There seems to be a thematic consistency in my work, but the imagery changes, as does its appearance.  I am always looking at relationships.  Visual, psychological, emotional, cognitive, spatial… Getting stuck to me means stopping.  Again, there is a natural rhythm that seems to occur in how much or how little I work, but I’ve developed the discipline it takes to follow through and not give up until I feel a work or a body of work is resolved.  (When I have learned all I can from it)  
On a more practical level, I find physical exercise, like swimming, and a close connection to a spiritual life very helpful.

Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?

Lots of looking, thinking, talking to other artists and students, and playing.  Playing and being open to new materials and ideas (other than those I practice or embrace in my own work) is important to me.  I never want to stop growing, learning, and trying to understand myself, other people, and our place in the world. 

Do you have other jobs other than making art?

Teaching studio art and art history has been a tremendous gift, it has infused my work with energy and ideas from across time and distance in a way I never thought possible. So has working with children in public school arts in education programs in New York, which I did for many years.   

If so, please give us some details.
Currently I teach Drawing at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and Art History and Studio art at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, NY.

Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?

I want to keep going and see what happens!  If I made up a wish list, I’d like to have a bigger studio because I’d like to make bigger work, and more exhibition opportunities, maybe come curatorial projects too, but for now, I’m very grateful for what I have and don’t think too much about the future. I try to take everything one day at a time.

studio view

Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention?
The University of South Carolina at Aiken will exhibit my landscape drawings at the Etherredge Arts Center in April, 2012, and I will have a solo exhibition in January, 2013 at the Blue Mountain Gallery in New York.

You can see more of Carol's work on her website.
Thank you Carol!