Interview with Alex Heaton
March 17, 2012 in Painting
You draw on a wide range of mediums including paint, collage and scale models – how do you decide which to use?
I decide in an organic way, for instance a piece like Alpine Start may dictate that its painted, so as to create a feeling of gassy nebulous clouds, the fluid nature of oils suits this best. However to render the details like linear constellations the gold leaf seemed a natural choice for this due to the fact that gold itself can only be formed in the heart of a dying star.
With the prints because they are obliquely collaged and deal more with graphic lines, screen-printing work best, as it’s a medium of hard edges and sharp lines. To paint those collages, it seemed to me would deaden the impact of the stark visuals I was sourcing.
The models were at first a starting point for the paintings; I was using them to map out what I wanted to paint instead of using a sketchbook. Eventually they became art pieces in their own way and not just supporting material. The Paintings were not about movement as such, more like somber still reflections on landscape and natural forms. So I feel each medium is essential in a way that gives insight towards the others.
How do you go about creating works; is there a common starting point for all of them, do you work on several pieces simultaneously?
A lot of my work comes out of my travels and experiences over the years climbing and hiking. I have a vast library of images that I’ve gathered. Often these don’t get used for years. Chance plays a big part, I may happen to read some legend or catastrophic story about an event that took place where the physical geography of the landscape played a part in the story. So the work comes into being in this way. A work like On the Summit of the Wetterhorn for instance, which depicts the first ascent of the peak. A local Swiss farmer followed the two English Alpinists and carried a spruce tree all the way up from his valley to plant on top of the snowy summit instead of a national flag, (I liked that sentiment). Other times the work is more autobiographical, like Alpine Start, which re-imagines a spot I bivouacked in last summer prior to climbing Mont Blanc, where I woke up at 3pm to set out climbing and was astonished to see how bright the milky way was, overshadowing the dim glow from nearby towns. I almost felt like I was carrying the stars up the peak with me and they were directing my journey.
So yes, they all evolve together as each one is made by adding or reducing certain parts has an impact on the others so it’s a process of refinement and reduction, (I hope!)
You are inspired by 18th and 19th century romanticism and you create your works digitally – how would you define your relationship to tradition?
A lot the painters from that era that were any good used montaging by swapping bits over to create harmony or divine perfection as they envisioned it in their landscapes. Bringing them closer to god or the land itself. This was done through in-depth drawing and documenting every facet of life in the wildernesses they wished to depict and explore. Artist’s like Schinkel or Blechen would then transpose their drawings onto the canvas and swap a pine tree here for a cliff or put a ruined church before a vast mountain range where it never stood. I’m simply using this technique with my own digital photographs and drawing them together in the computer. This may seem like cheating, but it allows me a greater freedom of movement (compositionally speaking).
What is your relationship to myth and mysticism; would you consider yourself to be an agonistic?
Yes, theirs evidence of some force at work everywhere. You only have to open your eyes, like the perfection of a pine trees silhouette, which resembles a gothic church spire. Or the glint in the eye of an excited sausage dog as he prances across a playing field. What im interested in, is what if the God we talk about is actually just the world we live in, and how we treat it directly affects our relationship with God/s. The Saxon myths (if you want to call them that) of pre-Christian Europe seem to be immersed in an ethical system of humility and love for the soil from where we came and what makes us. I like this and it rings true with the experiences Iv had in the hills, where disrespect has nearly resulted in the death. We create our own myths through simply being and surviving.
What inspired you to create the Wunderkammer?
It came about whilst chatting with Ingrid Z about the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. I have shown artifacts before from my expeditions. However, this time I wanted to actually bring the Alps into the gallery. Since this is my main subject matter and the sometimes-curious terrains and traditions of what goes on in those remote glens and peaks can be imagined in small scale.
How do you source the images you use in your work and is the theme of appropriation an important part of your artistic practice?
I gather images from everywhere and anywhere really, begging, borrowing and stealing like any good painter should. Appropriation is very important; I try to always use my own photographic image of a place (If I have it) if not then I shamelessly mash up other images sometimes from old paintings or from Internet sources. I feel somehow they become mine in the process as I leave bits out, embellish others, or simply invert the colours. What I do with a source and simply not copying, invests it with my own ideas. Such artifacts painted in the work play up to this idea like the Spear of Destiny and the Holy Grail. They are placed on a pedestal perhaps as false idols. I want the viewer to make up their own minds about the borders of myth and truth.
Your works vary greatly in terms of scale – does the size of the works depend on the subject matter, on the atmosphere …?
Yes, for instance the new oval paintings are about intimacy and enclosure in caverns so they worked best on small canvas’s to draw the viewer in to see the small details. It’s akin to looking through a telephoto lens or a wide-angle, both are right but sometimes it’s nice to be drawn in to certain things.
The runic alphabet plays a significant role in your current exhibition – how did you become interested in runes and what function do they have in your work?
I started to look at the Norse creation stories. One that stuck out to me was the story of how language (the Runes) came about. It tells of how Odin was speared to the sacred world ash tree for 9 nights and days and from his blood gushed forth the runes in patterns on the rocks. This idea ultimately became a painting called the Ice axe murders. Where I translated the story back into Old Norse and gilded it around the paintings frame. As soon as I saw the runes laid out in metal they seemed to link harmoniously with the forms of the jagged landscapes I was interested in. Further research brought me to a Viennese writer called Guido Von List. He was one of the main philosophical thinkers of late19 century pagan-Germanic revivalism. List’s Armanan Runic alphabet encircles the gallery walls. Their forms are often reminiscent of symbols currently in use like the Knights of St John. And this is no coincidence; most of these symbols are still at work interwoven in the fabric of our everyday lives. All we need do is strip back a few layers of concealment in the Christian church for example and we have a fully functioning yet hijacked pagan system of worship system.
To what extent do also you draw on popular culture in your work?
Everything you see and hear will eventually get mixed in to some extent. In my case its 80’s skate Graphics, Heavy metal album covers, pulp WW2 fiction novels and films like Where Eagles Dare, minimal electro, and 90s budget ski wear makes Capri Sports. However I try to streamline everything as much as possible and give it a deco aesthetic.
How do you see your artistic practice developing in the next year?
Im getting arthrightis in my right wrist, so tight small paintings are becoming more painful, consequently Id like to enlarge the work and make things softer and more atmospheric.