Text: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of The Journal Gallery
After talking to Daniel Heidkamp at his show at The Journal Gallery, I came away with the sneaking suspicion that I have been thinking about light, color, and memory in a naive way. Thankfully, however, Heidkamp, like any of the most effective artists throughout history, shares his perspective in a way that expands the viewer’s own vision.
Broadly, “Jaws Dropping” takes as its subject the eastern seaboard that includes Eastern Long Island, Fishers Island, Martha’s vineyard, and points in between. It’s a continuation of Heidkamp’s five-year project of creating work based on his travels in a specific place, preferably one with art historical significance. Heidkamp describes these places as “a jumping off point of location that inspire a body of work. They have a feeling, a vibe, perhaps an art historical connection.” Previous locations included the Barbizon forest, which inspired a generation of French realist painters in the 19th century, just as Montauk and the Hamptons have inspired everyone from Pollock to Warhol to de Kooning. Heidkamp elaborates: “It’s incredibly inspiring. In Montauk, you’re on land, but the light has a maritime, nautical mood, where it’s perfectly clear and suddenly the fog rolls in. These attributes are the reason why artists have always been drawn there.” He almost seems to invoke Edmund Burke’s old subject, the sublime. Certainly Heidkamp’s consistent reminder that there’s a shark lying in wait (a shark who “hasn’t eaten yet, but is hungry”) beneath the surface of the show suggests the sublime insofar as it encapsulates nature’s awesome potential to destroy us. This potential and perhaps imminent destructive power is also present in several of the paintings that use a pale pink color to convey a sense of surrealism that threatens to transform into straight up realism as a global warming progresses.
In addition to Heidkamp’s gesture to art history, his landscapes and the figures that populate them also reference the artistic process itself. For example, one of the first paintings the viewer encounters depicts “Two guys digging at the beach. Are they digging for a clambake or are they digging for buried treasure or are the burying something? I see it as more metaphorical of the artist mining the landscape; the artist using the landscape as a subject. Taking that concept and depicting it in a more literal if somewhat tongue and cheek way.” This literalization of the artist’s process continues in his painting of the Warhol Estate that use actual sand taken from the landscape mixed in with the paint.
Heidkamp’s own particular process strikes me as integral to a very poignant observation he seems to be making about memory. During his tours, Heidkamp makes on-the-spot watercolor studies of his subjects. He then works from these watercolors when creating the final paintings in his Sunset Park studio. He shows me a watercolor that was painted “live” of his travelling companions on the beach at Fishers Island (you can find it on his Instagram). “I have a whole stack of watercolors like this in my studio. Here I didn’t do a larger painting, but this would be the jumping off point for a larger painting.” He begins with these watercolors (instead of photographs or even sketches) in order to lock his experience with color, light, and place into his sense memory, so that when he revisits them in the studio, he can more fully recapture the experience of being there. Of course, Heidkamp, does not have a pretense to total recall of the places he visits. He describes a dialectic between “painting from memory vs. painting from life” and asks, “How much am I pretending and how much do I really remember. So much of the experience comes through because I have these memories in my head. But there’s also the idea that I’m pretending, too.” He continues by explaining that, “A lot of my painting is call and response.” I’m not sure what he means until I realize that he is both the caller and the responder. He clarifies: “At the end of one whole day when I’m so spent, I’ll make one last mark: that’s one guy. Then I’ll come in the next day and not remember doing that, but think, oh that’s kind of cool” and he begins anew from where “the other guy” left off.
The result is paintings that tackle subject matter that may sound very familiar in a completely original way. And if you go to the show, be sure not neglect the room behind the main gallery space, as that is where to shark is lurking.