My paintings reflect the idea that our perceptions are colored by our past experiences, limiting our ability to see our world in its entirety with all of its conflicting motives and points of view. As we experience the world, our minds act as a filter where inevitably some information is lost, and some is added in the form of bias and pre-conceived notions. In my paintings I seek to visually illustrate this idea. My chosen subject matter is ordinary, even mundane, but as I layer brushstrokes atop one another those brushstrokes build images even as they obscure them. The result is a painting of a partially realized world that reflects the limitations of human perception and understanding.
Annie Heisey’s work has been exhibited at galleries and institutions in cities across the country including the Boston, New York City, Portland (OR) and Pittsburgh. She spent the past 8 years painting and teaching at various colleges in Portland, OR, and is happy to be back home in her native Pittsburgh.
AH: Moving cities, and coming back to Pittsburgh, really I wanted to make work that was about different things. I can’t explain why, it just changed. So this has also become a separate body of work.
JK: What were you working on before you moved back to Pittsburgh?
AH: Before I moved back to Pittsburgh… It’s funny because I was thinking about this today; about how to explain what I am doing now. And I think I realized that what I am talking about right now is perception… The first time I remember making really purposeful work it was about identity, and how people perceive their own identities. And then things shifted to anxiety and depression, and how people with those mental states perceive the world. You don’t see it the same way. Like if you talk to someone who is anxious or depressed it’s almost like they are responding to a completely different reality than what’s actually happening. And they know that. So in grad school, I was making work that was a lot about that. And it was a lot of things being very obscure versus things being very clear. Then I moved into making a lot of work about identity, and how people perceive their own identities and how they curate their own identities online… I’m not always catching up with my own work. I don’t understand what it’s about for a good six months after I’ve made it…
AH: I think what that is becoming about for me is the way… our perception of the world is always going to be colored by our past, and our memories, and our experiences, and our biases. Especially now with the recent election and how split things are, and how just increasingly polarized or right people feel. They’re very righteous in whatever their idea is without listening to the other side. I think they are becoming about that inability to see the whole picture, and the need to recognize that you’re not seeing the whole picture.
JK: So now that you are working more in memory, do you think that has anything to do with you moving back to where you are from?
AH: I think it does, absolutely… I moved back to Pittsburgh and I was never really a landscape painter. I was always a figurative painter, and I am still mostly a figurative painter. But there’s a bunch of landscapes behind you… those are cheesy iconic Pittsburgh scenes but I really wanted to paint hills with bunches of houses on them. I needed to paint where I was and figure it out. Painting has always been how I figured out the world, and how I made sense of it… I needed to paint where I was from, that I had just come back to and figure out how it had changed and how it was the same. And I am also very much closer to my family now, and so I started painting my niece and my nephew, who are the little kids in these paintings… I tend to paint what is around me, and filter ideas through what it is that is currently my situation… I’m creating these sort of nostalgic paintings of childhood, and I am using my sister’s children and their actual childhoods but I’m changing a little bit of what’s happening within them. Like the painting of the little boy standing on the tree house, h e is the same as my actual nephew. But the rest of it, there was not a crazy tornado sky happening and he was not looking out over an abyss. Taking these moments where you feel like you’ve been there and you know it; it feels like something that you might have done as a kid, but it’s not you, and it was never really real is an interesting idea to me.
AH: I decided to move into [Radiant Hall] for a few reasons. One was that I thought the artist who were working in the building and just in all the Radiant Hall spots, I was really impressed by the caliber of work that was coming out of those studios… When I looked for studio space, I really liked the Radiant Hall artists and I was terrified/intrigued by the idea of not having a door to my studio. The open floor plan was something that I was really nervous about. But I also thought to myself, well I’m new to town again. I left everyone I knew in Portland, and I came back to my family and 2 friends from high school and that was it. And art wise, I was all by myself. The idea of having to talk to people, and having an open space that was going to force a community and a dialogue was a really interesting thing for me and turned out to be a really great thing for me. Even though I think I am a pretty out going person, I think I have these two different sides where when I come to paint I’m a very introverted person. I don’t want to have to talk to anyone about it, and I don’t want to socialize. And I was a little bit worried about how it would be, but it’s been great. Nobody bothers you but you get to see what other people are working on, which doesn’t happen in a tradition set up for a studio building… Every other studio I have been in, you didn’t know what anyone was doing unless you went and said, “Hey what are you doing? Can I come and see what’s happening?” Which is surprisingly hard to do. It’s hard to motivate yourself to do, hard to bother someone. But here because it’s open it isn’t bothering someone, it’s walking to your space.
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