Richard Heinsohn is a very talented artist www.richardheinsohn.com and this interview is one of my favorites. Much of what he says here really gets to the heart of what art is really all about. Richard challenges us to really think and go beneath the surface and consider his work.
MICHAEL: Hey Richard, your work is pretty cool. I love the heavy, "gloppy" appearance and application of your paint. You must spend a lot of money on paint alone!
RICHARD: Yes, I work with a lot of paint mixed with sand and sawdust and small to medium-sized objects. I'm not a dauber or scraper or a dripper, but more of a globben-wielding goopenslopper. It's just how things wound up.
MICHAEL: I'm not sure if I'm correct, but to me, your work really seems to be about what you can do with the media rather than creating a narrative per se. In that way, it's kind of Jackson Pollock-ish.
RICHARD: I would say that's not the case with my work at all. The medium has allowed me to expand my vocabulary extensively so that I can create a narrative with the paint. Elements such as the craters carry with them symbolic value such as representing destruction or devastation. The shear excess of paint can impart a sense of things being swept away as with a tsunami, while also providing an intensity which imparts extreme intentionality. Certain actions with the paint represent dramatic, one of a kind events which parallel acts in nature while also being expressive. In addition, the medium helps with intense color, but that tendency precedes my use of the medium. Pollock was involved in an existentialist practice wherein the act of painting was an event, the record of which was the painting itself. The fluidity of the paint allowed him to have a continuous flow of this expressive approach. His work is about paint; not in terms of what paint can do, but about what painting is. My approach is also existentialist and metaphysically driven, but more outwardly focused on the human condition and our surroundings than on my own inner being. These paintings are a reaction to how I perceive the world and universe and our current place in it.
MICHAEL: Does it matter to you that people understand your work the way that you do?
RICHARD: No. As Barzun said, "The final word in art should indeed be mystery" or as I always say, "Unanswered questions are the fuel of art." I want people to be intrigued enough to take pause and to stare and wonder because that sensation is lacking in modern society. I tend to create a set of visual balances which allow for some definition as well as some uncertainty so that the viewer will complete partial images in their mind or gain a general sense of the work as a launching place for deeper thought. That makes the work somewhat interactive or at least that's the idea. Sometimes people will say "Oh how fun! What fun colors!" That's an unfortunate mis-reading, but something I have learned to accept.
MICHAEL: Are you in Nashville? Are you from there? Nashville doesn't strike me as an art city? What's it like being an artist there?
RICHARD: Yes, I'm currently in Nashville. I moved here from Brooklyn to help my sister who lives here. I lived in New York for fifteen years, but I was born in East Tennessee and studied at The University of Georgia. It was odd as a child because neither of my parents were southern, in fact, my mom was from Madrid. Nashville is not a huge art city, but East Nashville has become very cool and the Americana music scene has brought with it lots of great folk art and a sort of bohemian vibe as well as a great sense of community. It's fun and festive with lots of bands playing everywhere and lots of events. My painting has responded well to having the quietude and lower financial pressure that comes with this less intense and easy going environment. I manage to get lots of work done here and I'm very focused, but I am also ready for the next move. There is a lot of interest in art in Nashville, and several galleries which draw lots of people for the openings and art crawls, but the emergence of any sort of scene seems distant.
MICHAEL: There seems to be this strange dichotomy when it comes to art lifestyles. So many artists I know say they love the quieter pace of smaller cities that feed their creativity, even if they aren't “art” cities, yet you almost feel like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If there's no one there to see or hear it, does it matter? If no one in a "big art city" experiences your work, does it matter?
RICHARD: Yes, it will always matter when the art you make results from your conviction that you are onto something that matters and your intention is that eventually people will see it. In a smaller city, you simply have to look for shows in other places. Ironically, you can easily be the unheard tree in the jungle of the big city simply due to the plethora of artists clamoring for exposure and the numerous little galleries that crop up and then go away. For me, there is no better situation than having low financial pressure and reasonable space to work. Lots of young artists go to New York after having all their school paid for by their parents and with continued support from parents and that makes it super fun, but can skew their world view to the point that their work becomes trivial and a by-product of a lifestyle which seems to be the main objective. I saw this development happen like a tidal wave in the mid-90s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sadly, this seriously crowds the art world with over-privileged posers and party goers, making it even more difficult to gain recognition if you aren't part of that network. This means your chances of success in that arena are better if you attend parties more and make art whenever. Outside that arena, in a quieter, smaller city, you stand a much better chance of actually developing something unique to its full potential. Then bigger galleries will notice and legitimate progress can be made. Of course, it's still very difficult, but working without distraction and fully developing the work is always the greatest reward for an artist.
MICHAEL: Wow. Very interesting. You've answered it somewhat already, but what do you think about the art world as it is right now?
RICHARD: Well, it's more of an art universe or a giant morass or maybe a giant mess or perhaps all three of those things. I largely agree with the recent comments of Charles Saatchi, although he ironically has been a major player in the profiteering and manipulation of art's progress in the last twenty years. He referred to the vulgarity of collectors in Europe and their buying of expensive art for opulence and glamour rather than collecting as a passion driven by the love of art. The problem is that super-rich collectors often don't have an educated enough eye to know great art when they see it so they buy from high-priced dealers and auction houses rather than from lesser-known dealers and from the actual artists. Collectors need to become visually literate enough to understand a challenging composition of abstraction or an innovative perspective in conveying formal and existential concerns when they see it. More simply put, they need to know art history and art practice well enough to recognize groundbreaking art when it's in front of them. Money alone can't make someone a savvy collector. I would love to see educated collectors emerge who were concerned with the history of art and who were eager to visit an artist's studio even if that artist wasn't already well-established. This development alone would be transformational and tremendously helpful for art's progress if it were to happen. So, that does also indicate that collectors drive the market and affect the nearby history of art for better or for worse. If most wealthy collectors and dealers had degrees in art history or fine art practice, the recent history of art would be very different.
MICHAEL: What is the actual painting process like for you? Is it intellectual? Emotional? Do you listen to music or watch television while you're painting or is it a totally meditative process? Do you ever paint at night?
RICHARD: I am always evolving, even in my process. I work very spontaneously when doing small works and works on paper and spend more time preparing when doing large pieces. The small ones allow me to generate lots of possibilities from which I can choose a general direction for the larger works. I also do drawings. While a strong intellectual basis exists for this work, I feel that anything truly amazing has to come from a deeper place than just the intellect. I try to avoid the word, "spiritual", because of its over-use and its association with organized religion, however, the subconscious; the "inner self,” is the connection we all have to consciousness, which connects all of us. My concern is with interconnectivity and how we are all part of one integrated process and my imagery abstractly refers to various aspects of and events associated with this universal process. For that reason and because it's my nature, I work intuitively as much as possible. I listen to music when doing much of the work, but sometimes I need quietude for concentration. At certain points, things get intense, applying lots of paint at once onto large panels. At times, I'm suspended in what seems like another dimension, making decisions with my eyes only. I have done many paintings at night when the world seems to have different energy; one is called, "The Spirit of Painting at Night."
MICHAEL: To me, your paintings could easily become sculptural pieces or you could do sculptural versions of your paintings. What do you think?
RICHARD: Sculpture is very different than painting. I'm interested in doing more, but I'm completely immersed in painting for now. I wouldn't do sculpture as a whim. I would have to commit to at least several pieces and that would require some re-arranging of the studio. Maybe someday.
MICHAEL: What would you say to people who might look at your work and say, "I could do that!"
RICHARD: Usually people who say such things about abstract work assume falsely that abstractionists can't draw. Nonetheless, my response is: " Perhaps you could, but would you?"
MICHAEL: You know, so many people look at the work of today's artists and compare them to artists of the past. Should influences still matter? Wouldn't it feel better as an artist to be seen at totally fresh and new?
RICHARD: "Totally fresh and new" would be the Holy Grail and is considered basically impossible because of the linear development of the history of art which at present has become saturated with explored possibilities. Ironically, the only way to achieve originality is to know art history well and to draw from your influences without becoming derivative of them. A synthesis of one's influences which also embodies something unique and recognizable from the artist’s persona could be fresh and somewhat novel. That's what many artists, including myself, are creating at this point in history where painting has already been declared "dead" at least three times since 1960. Keep in mind that Donald Kuspit's book, “The End of Art,” came out roughly a decade ago. Nonetheless, artists, recognized or not, will always make art and its meaning and importance will exist for time to tell.
MICHAEL: Finally Richard, At the very core of things, what are you saying through your work? What do you want people to GET from it?
RICHARD: I’d say different things about interconnectivity, integrated process and about painting itself. I'm working intuitively as a reaction to existence and how I perceive our existence in the broadest context. If people look and wonder and experience fascination, that's a great reward because enigma is not only the greatest thing we can experience but is also a key part of the human condition. We're all hooked on not knowing!
MICHAEL: Very cool. Thanks Richard. This has been great.
RICHARD: Thanks Michael for including me! It has been an honor and a pleasure!
Check out Richard’s work at www.richardheinsohn.com.