Full Spectrum: An Interview with Chris Heidman by Tiffany Lange
From a young age, Chris Heidman was drawn to the creative field. Through trial and error both in painting and producing music, Heidman has balanced both a successful music career and visual practice simultaneously. With the use of vibrant colors, strict shapes/lines and experimenting with layers of polymer gel, Heidman uses abstraction as a filter for the visual input that is constant in everyday life. Finding the brilliance through the mundane, he has been producing compositions that reflect landscapes and biomorphic camouflage. Due to COVID-19 and the stay at home order extending for another two weeks, SooVAC unfortunately had to reschedule Full Spectrum to a later date, but we are thankful to be able to connect with him to give our viewers a sneak peek into this upcoming show.
Interview by Tiffany Lange
Tiffany Lange: Tell us a little about yourself.
Chris Heidman: I was born in the land where all great artists are from... Iowa. I went to undergrad in Colorado and completed my MFA in painting at the University of Minnesota. While in grad school, I was putting equal amounts of effort into recording and performing music with my band Sukpatch. During my final semester, I was considering whether or not I wanted to pursue an academic career. Of course university jobs are incredibly hard to get, and even more so in art departments. The night before my thesis defense, I got a call from a guy at Sony who said he wanted to sign my band. And that is really when music started to become my career. I did successfully defend my thesis and got my Master’s in the end, but music really took center stage in my professional life at that time. During those years we released music with Mo Wax, Sub Pop, and Grand Royal. Through all the ups and downs of trying to sustain a living playing music, I always painted, it is my first real love. When the performing and recording days ended, I wound up producing music for film and television, mostly advertising work, which is what I still do to this day. Over the past few years, I’ve refocused my creative energy into painting. I once had a professor and mentor who told me to go ahead and try and make the music thing happen, and to come back to painting when the time is right. He also said that all great painters reach their peak abilities around age 50, so that always gave me hope that I could once again have a chance at creating significant work.
T: What came first - music producing or visual arts? Or did they coincide with each other?
C: Visual arts came first, I always painted and drew as a kid, experimented with sculpture as well. I always loved music—I bought a bass guitar when I was 14, I wanted to be in a punk band, but I really had no clue what I was doing. My musical self started to blossom my first year of college, when I met my two best friends and band mates, and we all sort of learned how to write and record music by trial and error. Our musical process was very similar to my visual process, it involved layers and loops, and both mediums have always been as much about the technique as they are about the final product. Visual arts came first, but both mediums matured at the same time for me.
T: Tell us a little about your practice as a visual artist:
C: I suppose I am not a typical artist when it comes to my practice. I define myself more as a producer. I produce music for my day job, and I take that same approach with my visual art. I “produce” paintings. I don’t necessarily define myself as an artist, I leave that up to the viewer to decide. I love to make beautiful objects, and the process by which I work is more important to me than the unintended allegory that may reveal itself. I typically leave my emotions out of the process, instead I put the process into motion, and if I do it right, the painting will communicate its own message.
In the years since grad school, I have shown in a handful of juried and solo shows; my most recent exhibition was the North/East show at Circa Gallery in Minneapolis in summer 2019. I have developed a following of patrons who buy my work regularly, so much of my work goes straight from my studio to someone’s home.
T: Do you have any creative routines when getting to the studio?
C: Not really any specific rituals. I tend to like having the TV on, and I work in spurts. I will go into my studio, which is in my house, and paint for 20-30 minutes, then I walk away, and repeat that throughout the day. I sort of think the less I do on a canvas in one sitting, the better, so I try not to stand in front of a painting for an extended period of time, that’s when I ruin it.
T: Can you walk us through your process of creating these paintings?
C: I use a LOT of tape and a LOT of gel. I used to be much more free handed, just slopping paint and getting very active with brushstrokes, etc... my new process has changed quite dramatically. I am drawn to really clean edges, flat shapes, and pure color. When I paint now, I pull out a bunch of very thin tape and sort of draw with it - by bending it and curving it to create lines and shapes. Sort of like when you put tape on your base boards when painting a room in your house, the tape acts as a resist. After I apply color, I pull up the tape, and it will have created very tight, concise shapes. I only apply one color at a time, and once I finish a layer of color, I tape up the sides of the panel, sort of like you would a soufflé, then I dump a bunch of this very watery polymer gel on top, usually about an eighth to a quarter of an inch thick, and let it set and dry. I then repeat that over and over. The final result creates this clear, plastic-like surface, and when light hits it, the shapes create physical shadows, since they are floating above the surface of the panel.
T: Any influential artists (visual, audio or beyond) that are important to your work?
C: In my formative years, Rothko, Frank Stella, Motherwell, Cy Twombly... they were all hugely influential to me. As for newer artists, I think Julie Mehretu is an absolute genius. I love the tightness, brilliant color, and graphic nature of Kehinde Wiley’s work a lot also. I would add Gerhard Richter to that list as well, as he’s mastered every facet of painting.
T: What are you planning on bringing to SooVAC?
C: I have been working on a series of 12x12 inch panels, acrylic with lots of pourable, polymer gel. The series started as these two-dimensional landscapes and recently evolved into a sort of biomorphic camouflage. The colors are very bright, which is a bit of a juxtaposition, since camouflage is meant as a pattern to conceal. By pushing the palette in these patterns, they lose their function of crypsis. I have been drawn to this idea lately during this pandemic, when we are all hiding out, but yet we still want to be noticed.
T: What is the importance of color, light, and space in your work?
C: It’s everything! Color is how I am able to speak with paint. I don’t take on a lot of political topics in my work, rather I like to create commentary between colors and shapes. My work is very much about living in the abstract.
T: What do you think the role of artists is during this COVID 19 crisis?
C: Well, first and foremost, be safe. But I think it’s a great time to create. Everything we create during this crisis will be part of the narrative. I don’t think it’s necessary to address the crisis, or to comment directly on it in one’s work, although I think it’s great if people do. I think there is such an overall heavy mood that is prevailing right now. We have become so accustomed to, and many of us are growing weary of, connecting over technology, but now it has really become something different. Tech has become a necessary tool in staying connected to the world, and in working. And, I think with all of us staying home and socially distancing, I feel like we are all getting more introspective. This is one of the most “real” moments we have all been through. There are wars, there is politics, etc., but this virus really has imposed itself upon our daily life in such a dramatic way. With all this craziness, and time to really think about what we value, I feel like some truly amazing art and music is going to be made during this pandemic, that’s my hope.
T: How are you doing and coping during all of this?
C: I’m doing pretty well, I have been keeping myself busy, painting a ton. I’ll admit, I am watching a lot of reality TV, I’m not ashamed to say that.
T: Anything else you would like to add?
C: I hope this show at SooVAC happens in the near future, I am so excited to share my new work with everyone. But for now, stay safe everyone.
Chris Heidman is a painter and music producer who currently resides in Minneapolis. Chris grew up in the plains of Iowa, got his BFA from Colorado State and his MFA at University of Minnesota in 1993 in painting. Upon completing his master’s, his music project, “Sukpatch”, was discovered by the legendary John Peel, and was signed by the Beastie Boys to their Capital Records imprint, “Grand Royal”. Sukpatch was an extension of his art, layered, pioneering and experimental. It created a balance between his visual and audio sensibilities. After a decade run working with Hip Hop A-listers, he released records on Sub Pop, Moshi Moshi, Sony, Mo Wax and Grand Royal. He also is the executive producer for HiFi Project, producing music for advertising with artists such as Diplo, Lizzo, Ciara, DJ Snake, Mark Ronson, Hot Chip and Bruno Mars.