Richard Heinsohn

"To an artist mystery is key. We have the ability to transform, to take the microscopic to the telescopic." | Richard Heinsohn


My work has evolved through a number of periods which have all come from a place of empathy, a reflection on our world and a fascination with the myriad of unknown and unexplained phenomena surrounding us.  

These recent paintings invite viewers to participate in the formulation of perceived images. I call this work RelationalAbstraction because the nature of the abstract forms and spaces allows viewers to employ their imaginations and make associations particular to their own psyches. Such were the ambitions of Gordon Onslow Ford, Wolfgang Paalen, Roberto Matta and others working as abstract surrealists in the period between 1939 and 1945.      

This work is a twenty first century continuum of abstract surrealism and builds on the notion that art can only enlighten society if it elevates consciousness by stimulating the imagination. Amidst the morass of upheaval, disaster and uncertainty we now experience globally, to address humanity's tendency towards materialism, divisiveness and disillusionment by psychic stimulus seems far more plausible than choosing subject matter from among the many symptoms of its decline. Today's high speed distribution of information and misinformation greatly impairs our collective ability to think critically and respond with sensitivity to injustice and calamity. 

Art that functions as a platform for imaginative discovery can play a significant role in encouraging viewers to embrace empathy as well as creative and critical thinking. The more we consider the vastness of unknown realities, the more we perceive ourselves as one unified world.

For a painting to be art it must organically convey sensations of enigma and elements of discovery. To create these experiences within the paintings, I employ a predominantly intuitive and gestural approach, yielding to internal impulses while maintaining a concentration which bypasses cognition. The more inadvertent or incidental the abstract elements are, the more surprising and invigorating to the viewers’ imaginations when specific images do become manifest. It is this delicate and teetering balance between form and field, between animated entities and mere configurations of color, form and space, that allows viewers to complete the context by deriving content in their own minds.  

As paintings that invite the viewers in to make personalized discoveries, many interpretations on various levels can co-exist and contribute to the shared art experience.


artist statement

As I spend my time making these paintings, I am actively reacting. This work reflects my fascination with some of the unknowable elements of our existence. I once saw what appeared to be an entire galaxy, colorful and seemingly infinite, through an electron microscope. That experience has been key in shaping my work. Life is filled with parallels and ironies, many of which can be seen in patterns, shapes and color. The ongoing accumulation of knowledge regarding what our lives are about and what constitutes the human experience has led me to observe simply that our part is miniscule yet somehow significant in a vast and endless process.

I began combining gestural abstraction with the appropriation of objects in my paintings years ago as part of an endeavor to fuse aesthetic values with conceptual insights. The gestural approach has evolved immensely over time and has become more of an intuitively generated array of symbols which vary in form and meaning. During this process I incorporate a wide variety of small objects such as paint tubes, old toys and discarded gloves into the thick mix of paint, sand, sawdust and painting medium to the point that they cannot be fully perceived from even several feet away but form a narrative of their own up close. This narrative provides a second stage to the viewing experience, allowing the paintings to communicate complex ideas while remaining abstract.

Intrigued by the use of objects in painting by Schwitters, Rauschenberg, Kiefer and many others since 1913, including a number of outsider artists, I love the story of an object transformed. Once a shiny toy car or plastic dinosaur or discarded paint tube, now frozen in time, now part of the soup. This new life is permanent, a legacy of life consumed and reconstituted as the story: the story of all things coming into being and being swept away, of life and bliss built on decay and loss. Beneath the green grass are bones and guns and the blue water reflecting the sky harbors sharks and shipwrecks.

I work with color as a medium which directly and immediately affects the mind. Like Rothko and Gottlieb, I believe color can arouse complex thought and that its impact goes well beyond a merely retinal effect. By juxtaposing deeply saturated hues and values I reach out from and out to a part of the psyche where intellect and emotion interact. The extreme amounts of paint, the craters and the various painterly events all speak to the force of nature in its many intense manifestations.

This work addresses global issues of survival, extinction and climate change while also focusing on the act of painting, the diversity of appropriation and the nature of the viewing experience. Most importantly, I place a high value on intuition, enigma, spontaneity and humor in art. The greatest reward for an artist may not be that he or she is understood, but that people continue to find the work compelling, intriguing and fascinating well into the future. As art becomes more philosophical, sociopolitical and academically driven, I feel the need for more open-ended interpretations than tidy explanations. Unanswered questions are the fuel of art.


artist bio

EDUCATION |1984 B.F.A. Painting and Drawing, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

EXHIBITIONS
2013
The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA

2012
The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA

2012
"Postcards to The Future" The Nashville Arts & Business Council, Nashville TN
The Exchange Project, curated by Heather Sparks, San Francisco, CA

2011
The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta GA

2010
Preston Contemporary Art Center, New Mexico
The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GA

2009
Studio 83, Nashville, TN

2008
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

2007
Estel Gallery, Nashville, TN
Take 121 Fine Art, Nashville, Tn

2006
Nashville Design Center, Nashville, TN

2004
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

2003
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

2002
The Lunatarium, New York City

2001
The Lunatarium, New York City
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

2000
Gayle Gates Gallery, New York City

1999
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

1998
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN

1997
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

1996
Tom Kieber Fine Art, New York City

1995
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

1994
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

1993
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

1992
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

1991
Bullot Fine Art, New York City
Allan Stone Gallery, New York City

1990
Bullot Fine Art, New York City

1989
Rakel, New York City

1984
The Courtyard Gallery, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

1979
The Hunter Museum, McCallie School, Chattanooga, TN

COLLECTIONS
Museo Colleccion Polo, Cuenca, Spain
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN
Reeves and Yeats, New York City
Cannon Studios, New York City
Montgomery Securities, New York City
Allan Stone, New York City
James Buckner, Inc., Knoxville, TN
Earl and Margit Worsham, Gatlinburg, TN

COMMISSIONS
Rakel, New York City
Niesing Corporation, New York City
Reeves and Yeats, New York City
James Buckner, Inc., Clearwater, Florida


essays

NASHVILLE PAINTER EXPLORES CRISIS AND TIME
by Melinda Baker

Concepts of time, moments of crisis and the resilience of the human condition converge in local artist Richard Heinsohn’s new exhibition, “Critical Conditions,” on view at East Side Project Space, Red Arrow Gallery’s collaborative satellite space.  Heinsohn’s colorful, dynamic paintings synthesize abstract expressionism, surrealism and conceptualism, and draw inspiration from artists like Goya, Rauschenberg and Duchamp to convey a singular astuteness, both aesthetically and conceptually, that grounds his work firmly in the contemporary.

Heinsohn spoke with The Tennessean over email about his new exhibition, on view at ESPS through April 30.

"Critical Conditions" is part of a larger series, "Time Frames," which explores the different ways we perceive time.  What inspired you to explore this subject matter with painting?

My mind has always gravitated toward the unknowable and the otherworldly, even as a child. When Brian Greene, noted quantum physicist, raised the question in an interview — ”What is time?” — it was an answer to the question of what he found to be the most elusive element of his research. This brought it all home for me somehow.

Painting as a process has many avenues. To some artists, layers (of paint) are a means to an end. They provide depth or pictorial space. To others, myself included, layers conjure associations with events of geological or cosmological proportion or with the notion of parallel dimensions.

Painting as a history has dealt with time since cave paintings.  More recently, Dali’s famous “ The Persistence of Memory” ... speaks to time’s fluid quality and it’s relationship to growth and mortality.

The backdrops of these paintings are photographs of various film scenes that often capture moments of panic, fear and crisis.  Why?

The processes of film having been digitized, transmitted through cable networks, shot in still format, then processed with my computer all added up to this layer-cake of vignettes. Add to all that the digital distortion caused by (my living room) lamp flaring off of the screen and I felt as if I were looking through a complex woven fabric. The concept of looking through time went off like a neon alarm in my brain.

(And) the tension necessary for the photos to be effective once painted over comes from images that capture ... dire circumstance.

Your painting style is marked by lots of color and "craters" of paint.  How did this develop?

I have done many things with paint, but when this came about in New York in 1987, I was a broke bartender living in a run-down loft on 17th Street in Manhattan. I knew immediately that I had found something really connected to my view of life.

Transformation is both destruction and creation. A crater is known for that. …  They point directly to the fragility and ephemerality of life.

Color is an intensely complicated phenomenon, which affects mood by directly accessing the subconscious. … Color does not, however, influence the way I explore subject matter. … I employ color to convey and temper the emotional impact of contemplative and existentially oriented works.

Your creative process is very intuitive, but it also seems highly intellectual.  How do you balance thinking and intuition?

I’m no philosopher, but I love that Martin Heidegger wrote in his book, "Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics," “Knowledge is primarily intuition.” To know something, it must be internalized. If you have to think about it, you don’t fully understand it. So I have spent half a lifetime thinking and learning, and although I still feel like an ignorant child most of the time, I can draw intuitively on what I have internalized.

What impact do you hope your show has on viewers? 

Empathy and contemplation are essential goals of this work, as are indications of how dangerous our world can be and what consequences arise from inaction. These pictures point to human resilience through tragedy and crisis in our time and in our past while providing the wider context of all time.

THE TENNESSEAN, 2017

 

CHANGE APPROACHES THE BLUE DOT
by Mary Ann Redding

Painter Richard Heinsohn aptly gives his canvases titles that become metaphors for bigger issues. Seen from space, the blue earth dot of Change Approaches the Blue Dot becomes an opportunity for reverie on the environmental changes that are rapidly affecting not only this planet but also the greater solar system. If those changes create enough chaos, it is indeed the end of the world as we know it, and as Michael Stipe of R.E.M remarks, "Lenny Bruce is very, very afraid." In his artist's statement Heinsohn says, "I depict volatility, integrated process, and the interconnectedness of all that exists... For the first time in recorded history, we currently face the potential for global catastrophe brought about by our own doing. Perhaps by better understanding the integrated nature of our existence we can evolve quickly enough to embrace compassion and avoid self annihilation." Such is his commitment to environmental consciousness, the painter uses non-toxic, water-based acrylic gel, and he recycles the detritus of our consumer society: wood, gloves, paint caps, plastic toys and fabric into his work. In Carnival-in-Darkness and Nature's Chaos, bright blobs of biomorphic paint ooze, bubble, and seep out of the blackness--the visceral big bang.

PRESTON CONTEMPORARY CATALOG, 2010

 

INTUITIVE UNIVERSE
by Lizzie Peters

Richard Heinsohn and his art are spot-on in a rapidly changing world. His intuitive style of painting connects him to the universal energy that exists between all matters and has the ability to bring the viewer into the explosive and exciting pieces that are his work. “I think an artist has a responsibility to reflect something about life, to be informed and to be informative, to inspire and be inspiring, most importantly to be relevant,” he recently observed.

Stacked canvases and works in progress fill Heinsohn’s studio in Inglewood. In fact, they fill a rabbit warren of rooms behind the studio and spill into his office. Yet another 100 pieces are stored off site with a friend. Done in non-toxic, water-based acrylic gels, his newest creations are in varying stages of completion. The colorful signature “craters” that are a motif of his work seem to sparkle and pulse the longer one stays in the room.

Heinsohn is interested in the macro and micro aspects of human existence. Each piece of his art is undeniably a statement of the cosmic force in nature: implosion and explosion, creation and destruction, the obvious and the unseen. His fascination with the Big Bang was integral in the evolution of his style. After viewing what appeared to be an entire galaxy through an electron microscope, colorful and seemingly infinite, he was hooked.

It is this intuitive connection that results in an array of brilliant orbs and bands of color, the very same style that first caught the eye of the late, esteemed New York City gallery owner Allan Stone. Heinsohn’s consideration of existence and his ability to arouse curiosity led to his inclusion in a show of featured works that included renowned artists de Kooning and Kline at Stone’s gallery in 1995. This type of validation is something many artists dream of but never realize in a lifetime.

Works titled Carnival in Darkspace, Mega Metamorphosis, The Grand Exchange, and Nature’s Chaos are all indicative of this visionary’s talent. Almost professorial, Heinsohn is able to articulate his fascination with the mysteries of life using the language of abstraction.

“I am a very, very intuitive painter,” he says while adding color to a work in progress. “We think of craters as evidence of massive destruction, yet they have often resulted in the creation of ecosystems, such as a lake. We live on a dangerous and volatile planet. To an artist mystery is key. We have the ability to transform, to take the microscopic to the telescopic.”

Upon closer inspection, one finds that Heinsohn’s newest work, for example The Giant Leap, includes not just an incredible array of color and form but also items of whimsy, such as the frog imbedded in the canvas. “It was a gift from the Chattanooga aquarium. I use planks, gloves, paint caps, fabric, and plastic toys like Princess Leia to show how everything in life is immersed in an ongoing process. Life is a vast process,” he concludes.

While the larger pieces of Heinsohn’s work sell in the five-figure range, smaller pieces are significantly more affordable. With an art market on the rebound, there is no doubt that his work will find a home in many collections, both big and small. Painting daily, teaching and interacting with other artists are things he intends to continue for the rest of his life. Someday, he hopes to take over an industrial building and create a space for artistic interaction.

“Good art stimulates us to think about life and our responsibilities. I’m trying to get to the place where people are able to see synapses.” He has built it, and they will come.

NASHVILLE ARTS MAGAZINE, 2010