On a cold, windy day in late March, we visited Angela Heisch’s studio in Brooklyn. As she gave us a tour of her cozy studio, the large-scale paintings on the walls radiated instant cathartic energy, allowing us to escape reality and slowly grounding our gaze, finding moments of pause through her harmonious oeuvres. Known for blurring the line between personification and abstraction, Heisch’s works offer psychological space that opens a new dialogue of curiosity for the audience and presents an endless possibility. Deceptively simple in their composition, complexity in work is revealed in impeccable layering and gradients, meticulous brushstrokes, and sweeping stretches of color. Over the years, her focus has shifted from investigating patterns to playfulness, and in her paintings, we can all feel a sense of belonging and find a balance in this hectic and distracting life. We sat down with Heisch to discuss her compulsion for symmetry and composition.
PLUS: You’ve mentioned that the colors for each painting are more of an intuitive process. Your works expose a variety of shades within a color and work with different types of colors throughout. Before we head into the questions, what color best describes your mood for the day?
Angela Heisch: Today was a day of never-ending chores and things to get done, but it’s also one of those perfect early days in spring, so with a mixed mood, I think I have to pick two colors—indigo and sap green.
The earlier works highlighted your distanced feeling toward symmetry, especially the patterns in nature (ex., Butterflies, moths, and mushrooms). Can you share how your practice has evolved since then and how the works share similar ideas but just in different forms?
Those earlier works were a very direct reflection of my opposing feelings towards symmetry. At the time, I was trying to create a sense of alarm and intrigue; both feelings correlated to specific symmetric imagery seen in nature. Through the use of pattern, the paintings presented a feeling of agitation and possible danger while also fragility and desired perfection. I was thinking specifically of the patterning on insects and fungi and how this patterning is used to both attract and frighten others. I wanted the paintings to be a reflection of those conflicting emotions.
In my more recent work, I’ve stopped using patterns in such a glaring way. My work is still heavily inspired by patterns in nature, but more so the architectural patterns and less so the appearance of insects and fungi. A sense of balance has replaced the presence of symmetry in most of the work because I want the newer work to feel more inquisitive and playful, less rigid and unwavering.
You recently moved into this studio. Can you tell us more about this space?
Yeah, I just moved to a bigger studio, allowing for more space to spread out. I’m settled on working mostly large scale for the moment, so it’s been beneficial to have a studio to work on a handful of paintings simultaneously. I’m in a building of mostly artists and small businesses in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and luckily there’s lots of good food and coffee nearby.
I am intrigued about your work process and how you begin with smaller size pastel on paper and then move to paint on a larger canvas.
The pastels are great for sorting out big ideas, like composition and color. They’re pretty immediate and take a day or two to finish, unlike the paintings. It’s amusing and easy to build color with chalk pastels, and similarly easy to change direction in color and make minor compositional tweaks as I’m going. I don’t make pastel studies for more miniature paintings, but they’re helpful once I scale up. The paintings are never a direct replica of the pastels; the composition often changes a bit, and the colors continually shift. It’s been enjoyable to learn when to lean on the pastels to inform the paintings and when to let the painting become something entirely different.
The smooth surface of the paintings elevates the pensive feeling in the works, and the soft, almost sand-like fine texture brings a sense of a breeze as if I am moving with the shades of color.
Yeah, the differences in surface and scale between pastel and painting put them on two different planets. The pastels feel so powdery fresh and come into existence so fast. On the other hand, the paintings take so much longer to finish that by the time they are, they feel like they’ve been around for ages, allowing a lot more time for reflection.
Many of your works have a repetition of thin, very lightly painted strokes and circles, and I wonder if it is intentional? It’s unique because it contrasts the more extensive form and vibrant colors that empower the overall painting.
Most of those thin lines and circles are made at the very end of a painting and satiate my need for some of the process to be uncertain. Sometimes when I finish one work, the composition can look a little stagnant, maybe too balanced, or even slightly off-balance in an undesirable way. The trim lines and dots are a way to set that right and hint at a sense of atmosphere (breeze) or personification (fly away hairs or beauty marks). Off-balance.
Let’s talk about the titles of your work. You mentioned it is an emotive response you have to the work when it is completed.
The titles are formed from personal reactions I have when the work is finished. I’m always surprised at how a piece turns out and usually like to add the titles when those unpredictable feelings come on. The titles are also a way to guide the viewer a little. I don’t want to tell anyone exactly what to see, but some titles end up being more explicit than others. For example, Aware of the Puddle tells a narrative of the gesture I want to be seen in the work. In Aware of the Puddle, a plant-like figure has just come across a reflection and gestures down to meet its gaze. On the contrary, Flares is about a burst of energy and unlimited color and feels much less objective. All this being said, I love when the titles bring up other associations because the paintings are rarely about just one thing.
Can you expand on your exploration of meditativeness in the context of balance?
I use the balance in work as a tool to create reflection, which, depending on your mood, can feel meditative. Like most abstract work, I want my paintings to function as a mirror, and with any interaction with a reflection, there’s a moment of pause. This moment of hesitation amongst dynamism is what I’m trying to emphasize. There’s also a meditative quality to repetition, which is a significant element in work.
With everything in life, we are constantly going through different phases of change. As your practice evolves, what are some ideas you’d like to explore and roles you would like to expand as an artist?
I think above all, I’d like to find new ways to add a sense of playfulness to the process and surface of the paintings.
Any upcoming plans you can share with us?
Yes, right now I’m working on my next solo show, which will be in September of this year with Grimm Gallery in Amsterdam.