Every week I photograph at the farm where I work, and usually it is a hive of activity. When I arrived this morning there was no one there and at first I questioned what day it was. Once I inquired at the office I was reminded of the Day without Immigrants. What a coincidence that I chose this day to visit. As I walked around trying to capture the feeling of the emptiness I could not ignore the realization of my own privilege.
After many years of not trying to get a photo into The Austin Chronicle I finally had my first one published this week. All thanks to T. Lynn Mikeska who enlisted me to help create an image worth accompanying her very first article. In it she lays out an entertaining and funny timeline of events related to being a part of the short fringe FronteraFest 2017 with her best friend 'Sassafras'. The icing on the cake is that her piece made it to Best of the Fest, whittled down from 100 entries, which were all preformed live at Hyde Park Theater over the last month. It was a mess but somehow they came out on top. Check out the article for a funny glimpse into the world of theater. http://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2017-02-10/an-idiot-at-fronterafest/
It's hard for me to believe it has been over three years since I met visual artist Jan Heaton and photographed her for the first time at her house. I was in the middle of my Panorama 365 Project and was focused on capturing artists working in their studios. That visit to her home studio, to create the photo at the bottom of this post, was so much fun. She is such a smart and talented artist. We ended up talking for hours about art and business. Homemade minestrone soup was served for lunch! What a great memory.
When Jan wanted a panorama of her visiting a farm stand to coincide with her market series promotion, I was more than happy to do it. Boggy Creek Farm ended up being the ideal location. The owner Carol Anne was more than happy to let us use her farm stand and Buddy the dog kept and eye on things. At times It was challenging with all of the customers coming and going but in the end I was very pleased with the result.
To commemorate Jan's current exhibit "The Market" at Davis Gallery in Austin, and to show off our images, I decided to send her some questions and catch up with a blog post. Being a farm photographer also makes me a little biased. Her paintings of vegetables and fruits are so gorgeous.
SDG: When did you start your market series and what inspired you to do so?
JH: The current series started three years ago with three watermelon radishes I purchased at Johnson’s Backyard Garden. It was an unexpected surprise to reveal the color, lines and forms when I sliced it. I painted three small 4 x 4 paintings with a plan to do them on a larger scale. I was hooked. The next week I bought maroon carrots and painted them, followed by eggplant, squash, etc. I go to various farmers markets as often as I can. The displays alone are inspirational. I also painted limes and figs from neighborhood trees and cherries as a tribute to my cousin who lives on a cherry farm in Michigan. I love to cook and focus on organic and fresh produce whenever possible.
SDG: Did you have to push the limits of your skills as a watercolor artist or go beyond them to achieve the look and pattern of these fruits and veggies? Any in particular?
JH: As I approach a new subject I often paint small studies in my sketchbook. For the market series I painted small 4 x 4 paintings that resemble a very colorful deck of cards. My vocabulary of technical skills changes and grows with each new painting. I experiment with different ways to handle the watercolor medium. Each painting is unique and an exploration.
SDG: Are you still working on this series?
JH: Just about when I think it’s time to do something totally different I run into a papaya or something I have not painted yet. There are over 100 paintings in my current solo exhibit at the Davis Gallery, and I feel like I have just skimmed the surface on subject matter!
SDG: How is it different painting from still life as opposed to creating something from your imagination?
JH: My paintings are based on memory. I don’t paint with the object in front of me. A market bag’s contents would be sliced, cut, chopped, diced, and sketched before the painting began. I then leave those inspirations and start painting. I zoom in on details and expand them. Sometimes it is simply the form, or the pattern of seeds, or a detail in the rind. My objective is to capture not only what I observe, but to isolate, simplify and abstract the subject matter and record the essence of a fruit or vegetable with minimal marks.
SDG: Has this work led to or inspired new work or a new direction for you?
JH: I am always interested in remembering and recording details. It may be a piece of produce, a colony of fish swimming by a rock, the pattern trees form against the clouds. Right now I am inspired by a wren nest in my agave plant! Subject matter is never a challenge, it’s editing and finding the time to paint it all!
SDG: How does teaching watercolor to students have an effect on your work?
JH: I teach four weekend workshops a year at The Contemporary Austin Art School at Laguna Gloria. I always learn from my students. Being a studio artist is a solitary pursuit. Teaching has also allowed me to meet other artists and examine my creative process. It has also helped me improve my presentation, and public speaking skills. I strive to create a relaxed and casual environment in my classes. Most of my students are working or retired professionals. This is an opportunity for them to do something they love. They are always a gracious, appreciative, and talented group of people. Many of them become longtime friends. I value the dimension they give my work.
SDG: What are you working on now and what’s next for you?
JH: I am collaging a full size fiberglass cow in my living room! The cow will be an interactive art activity at Dell Children’s Medical Center’s Art of Giving 2016. At the April 2nd event the children will be able to collaborate on the cow’s design. The event benefits Art & Healing and Music Therapy Endowments, and the Dell Children's Trust granting pool. Twelve professional Austin artists are participating in this fundraiser. I am also working on a branding project for a spa. Creating small images of watercolor patterns and textures that will be used in their identity package. I worked in advertising for over twenty years so this is a little like returning to my roots. This weekend I am teaching a watercolor workshop at Laguna Gloria. I like to be busy.
SDG: Sounds like you are very busy. Thanks Jan! I'm so grateful to have had an opportunity to know you and your wonderful work. Everyone should make a point of seeing this fantastic show.
The Market at Davis Gallery-Austin
An Exhibition of New Watercolors by Jan Heaton
On View: March 5 - April 16, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 5, 7-9pm
Artist Demonstration: every Wednesday, 12-2pm
Artist Inquiries: janheaton.com | email@example.com
It's very flattering to receive a referral for work, especially out of the blue, and to have an opportunity to meet someone new. A good friend of mine, who has done many portraits and is very capable, gratefully sent the local writer José Skinner my way to get some new portraits done ahead of the launch of his newest book, The Tombstone Race.
Working with different types of creative people is always fun and exciting, and I especially have a lot of respect for writers. I met José at his office on Cesar Chavez, and after taking a few warm up shots, we walked down the street to find the potential backdrops for these images. Personally, that is the way I prefer to do all my headshot/portrait type work, which I did a lot of in NYC while studying acting. José and I walked around his neighborhood exploring the colors and textures of the east side, using only natural light, and found some pretty great spots. All the while I'm getting to know José, we talked about his work and his life. Post photo shoot, I sent José over a few questions since I still wanted to know more about him.
I'm looking forward to reading his new book and seeing how the photos will be used because I really like how they turned out. It's even better because now I know José and have been exposed to more of the diversity and talent that exists under the radar here in Austin. Be sure to visit his website and read about his very interesting past.
SDG: Tell me about your new book?
JS: Fourteen realist stories set in contemporary New Mexico. Reviewers have described them as "gritty" and as depicting "hardscrabble" lives, and I guess that's true enough for many of them. You can read a review here:
SDG: When does the book come out and where can it be acquired?
JS: It will be released March 1, 2016. Launch is March 3rd, 7pm at Book People.
SDG: Where do you get the ideas for your writing?
JS: Could come from anywhere: a snippet of overheard conversation, a remembered incident from childhood, a street scene. For example, last time I was in NYC I saw a grand piano being hoisted to a third-floor window. I can do something with that... I think...
SDG: What motivates you to write?
JS: It's the same motivation that ultimately motivates any artist or craftsperson, I think: the desire to create a solid piece of work in which everything fits together in a way that makes sense. Writing a story or novel is like building a house: it can be extravagant and baroque, but in the end it has to be unified as a structure. The reader has to inhabit it without feeling it's going to collapse around her. I suppose the same desire also motivates mathematicians and scientists. Physicists won't be satisfied until they can unify the fundamental forces and particles into a single field. Your panoramas are exquisite examples of distinct images brought to unity.
SDG: Thanks! The were a lot of fun to create. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
JS: First I brainstorm, and then I make an outline from the patterns that emerge from the free association. The brainstorming would likely involve characters. In the piano story above, I would immediately begin imagining the pianist, the movers, perhaps the building's super. Eventually a theme evolves, but that comes later--the owl of Minerva takes off at dusk and all that. I don't begin writing and see where it takes me: to keep with the house building metaphor, I think this would be like starting hammering boards together and hoping a structure comes of it.
SDG: You mentioned how you deal with writers block. Can you elaborate on that?
JS: First I think it's good to try to get your ego out of the way. You can't be thinking, "How is it that I am writing this, what are others going to think of me when they read this,etc. Instead, you have to think, "Here is a story worth telling and this person they call me seems to be the one that has to tell it, so let me take a crack at it." If the story seems to big and daunting just in terms of execution, keep in mind Anne Lamott's "bird-by-bird" advice: you have the whole diorama in mind, but you build it bird by bird, that is, scene by scene, word by word.
SDG: Who do you like to read and what books have made the most lasting impression on you?
JS: I read widely. A guilty pleasure are these "Very Short Introductions" by Oxford University Press, which cover everything from electromagnetism to Wittgenstein. (I say "guilty" with irony, aware that the cash nexus, the money economy that rules our society, would prefer that people not "waste" their time pursuing knowledge in a dilettantish way and instead concentrate on the specialty for which they've been trained.) In terms of the short story, which I suppose is my specialty and is indeed what MFA fiction workshops mostly train one in, I admire Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, Eudora Welty, Tessa Hadley, Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortazar, Richard Ford… I could go on. On the long side of things, and what actually got me writing, strangely enough, was Proust's multi-volume Remembrance of Things Past. In general, I prefer realist writing to postmodernist because I'm interested in discerning the patterns I think can be found in reality and history and don't think reality is so chaotic that one might as well slap any old pattern or design onto this hopeless chaos. For this reason, I enjoy reading science books. I am eager to read Nick Lane's The Vital Question, about the origins of complex life.
SDG: Thank you for your time and best of luck with the book launch. I really enjoyed working with and getting to know you.