Daniel Heidkamp is a Brooklyn-based painter with an eye for creating dynamic mental interruptions. His paintings capture more than just scenes, they illuminate how we interpret them. Particular details and colors bloom. Pink blossoms appear like dinner plates. Trees appear to commune with each other in hue and form, and children approach each other on vast lawns. Heidkamp’s paintings color the rest of your day in a way that reminds me of some lines by poet Jack Gilbert:
"The summer mornings begin inch by inch while we sleep, and walk with us later as long-legged beauty through the dirty streets."
Heidkamp takes a morning and translates it for us into something intimate, illuminated, and indelible. His work is up right now at White Columns (320 West 13th Street, NY) and runs through July 26.
To connect with Daniel Heidkamp head over to www.danielheidkamp.com
Beautiful Savage: What are you working on for White Columns?
The White Columns show comprises paintings inspired by the grounds of Central Park behind the Metropolitan Art Museum. A number of these, including: “Mother’s Met,” “The Dye Is Cast Met,” “Off the Grid Met,” and “Dad Met,” I painted live on the spot and from direct observation.
Others were developed in the studio from all available source material. These include: “Metropolitan High,” Vision Zero Met” “Moves That Matter,” “Crest Met,” “Powdered Wig Met,” “Cosmic Giggle Met,” and “Earth Day Met.” I choose this setting as a subject because it is one artful place that provides a maximum chance for painting beauty and intelligence. Included in the group is a cluster of figure paintings and portraits of some of the people who join me as I go.
Who are a few painters you consistently return to?
I often have art books open on the floor around me as I’m painting. I spend a lot of time with 19th century painters from France: the big boys, like Manet, Monet, and Renoir. I always have my nose in my Fairfield Porter books too, although weirdly feel like I haven’t seen much of his art in person. When I’m at the Met I like to look at paintings by Sargent and Rubens. I appreciate the thrust towards abstraction and attitude of much 20th-21st century painting, but I feel like the best techniques are in the old school — so I start there.
Are you reading anything at the moment? Does reading influence your work at times or your creative process?
Right now I’m into reading technical art books or anything that has the whiff of secret knowledge. I recently acquired “The Illusion of Life” written by two of Disney’s original animators. It’s basically a textbook that generously illustrates the otherwise unseen processes and rules behind classic animation. Even more mind bending is Salvador Dali’s “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.” It’s a mix of hardcore oil painting tricks that only a master could know, combined with super weird surrealist thought experiments. Half the book seems like he’s just messing with you, but there is information embedded in those pages that changed my process overnight.
Looking for secret knowledge sounds like a noble cause. Where do you start when beginning a painting? You say there’s a maximum chance for painting beauty and intelligence in Central Park. Are there emotional triggers, associations, or memories there as well?
Specifically, the place where it happens for me is around the grounds of the Met. Besides it being a being beautiful terrain, with blossoms, tree canopies, modernist and classical architecture, I’m also interested in the idea of the museum as symbol. It is the safe house of our finest art—painting on those grounds suggests how the landscape can never escape the weight of history. When painting there I’m both communing with the masters, but I’m outside of the institution, connecting, aspiring, but still removed. The image of the Met— the walls and glass—seem impenetrable, but in the paintings there is slippage, moments that break through—break through into history, into luxury, the future, nature, into feelings of a higher mind and universal connection.
Who are the subjects in these paintings? You’ve mentioned there is one of your wife and son. What from a person gets into a painting, specifically? Is it more the gestures, the feeling of their interaction with those around them, their essence?
All of my people are painted from life. Besides my wife and baby son, there are other young mothers from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, as well as a portrait of my friend Elena who works in the art industry and recently posed at my studio. When I paint a person I usually just sit with them and look and we talk for a while. I like a pose that looks comfortable and easy. When working with another person, there are always surprises. How will they recline into a seat? What will they wear? I try to respond to what’s in front of me. The process can be tricky, but sometimes magic happens.