Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Art of Abstraction: An Interview with Heidi Whitman

On September 22 painter Heidi Whitman spoke and presented her work in the Wadleigh conference room as part of Chester College of New England's Visiting Artist Symposium.

Most of the work presented was from her series Brain Terrain, a mixed-media project focusing on an abstraction of both the physical and the mental, presenting a literal map awash in surreal imagery. The combination of cartography and dreamscapes seemingly puts the very nature of the series at odds with itself: how do you map the intangible? But it's that very exploration of thought that Whitman uses to bring the viewer in.

Throughout Brain Terrain themes and images recur, but they share much of their space with undefined shapes. This abstraction, Whitman said, is important. She uses abstraction because to her, it's a purity and simplification of the everyday; a choosing to provoke ideas through color and shape over logic and reason.

The pieces in Brain Terrain serve to represent modern life, showcasing how technology bombards us with images and ideas at an impossible rate. Symbols of this are easily spotted in the paintings, whether it be a free-floating brain or an ominous airplane. But despite being busy, the pieces are made by traditional means. Whitman said she chooses to combine different papers, inks, paints and textures over any sort of digital manipulation.

Despite promoting the importance of technology, Whitman said she believes that digital imaging will never completely overtake traditional art because there will always be a need for it, either as a consumer or a creator.

Whitman's work is perhaps best described as reactive; not just in how the viewer may interpret it but in how it is made. She discussed an instance in which a stray line is drawn and built upon, initially without sound reason, with the piece slowly coming together in layers.

She also spoke to how she adapts to her influences. For example, she described the work of another artist that involves cutting up prints with an Exacto knife. Then she showed her own work made with the same method, creating three-dimensional structures that, while expressing the same ideas as the paintings, now play off of literal space and shadow. To her that is inspiration: "the adaptation of past techniques to your own style."

--Ben Dennison

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