We’re eager to hear about these new works Heiko, but could you first tell us a little about your background? Where do you live and how did you become an artist?
I live in the North of Germany in a small town by the name of Großhansdorf. The place labels itself “forest parish” (Waldgemeinde) and that has its reasons: there is plenty of woodland, peopled by roe deer, rare birds and tiny frogs. I’ve been living there for six years now and when I look at my pictures I have to admit that the place has quite an impact on my art.
I’ve been painting and drawing with enthusiasm since my childhood. This was probably because I tried to imitate my two older brothers, who used to paint and draw as well. They unfortunately stopped at some stage. I stuck with it.
The Inner Light
Did you pursue art in school, or was your work more of a personal endeavor?
I was lucky to get a very good art teacher at the age of 12, who gave me the right kind of impulses. Not only did I like the approach to art that he taught us, I was also very impressed by his way of life, which appeared so completely different from the way of my parents. Later I studied children’s book illustration. That didn’t really turn out to be my thing, but the professor was great and I learned quite a lot.
Tell us a little about how you approach your work please. Do you create from specific images or thoughts? Are they intuitive or life-inspired? Is each image a work to itself or are your works part of a larger body of work or series?
In a way, all of the above is correct. I always live through phases in which I pursue certain directions. Once I notice I’m close to what I vaguely thought I wanted to reach, I change orientation. Let me give you an example. In 2006 I started drawing with colored pencils. I steadily refined my technique until I drew three pictures in 2009 (The Knife, Together Alone and Fancy Couple) and realized I couldn’t technically evolve further in that direction. So I started working with acrylic. I noticed I wasn’t able to get a grasp on the material and that I did enjoy this fact very much, after so much disciplined work on the photo-based pencil pieces. I scrawled and scribbled and made quite a mess, and the outcome were very intuitive pictures. This is how my Gangland series came into being. I’m still adding pictures to it now and then.
The new works for this show seem to be of a diverse nature, what is the connective thought or thread in these new paintings?
The connecting element is my love of nature, which can show itself at quite different angles. When I take a look at my paintings now, I notice there’s something of the fairy-tale in all of them. A man seems to undergo a spiritual experience, a fox is about to talk, an antelope is aglow from within. Apparently I have a lasting childlike fun to see more in the things I love than is actually there. This applies to their good side as well as to their bad one.
How do you break up your day to begin being creative? Is there specific studio time or do you get into the studio whenever you have an inspiration?
As I have three jobs and a family, I have to schedule my time very carefully and I manage to do that with discipline. Thursday for instance is my only painting day and usually I paint those days from morning till evening. On top of that I paint afternoons and evenings on weekends and sometimes in the evenings on weekdays. Fortunately I don’t like watching TV that much, so this isn’t something that keeps me from painting.
What is your studio space like? Is it in your living space or separate? Does that situation affect the work, its size or content?
My studio is a small room in the basement of my house. On the one hand it does narrow my possibilities. The ceiling is so low that it’s only comfortable to paint pictures with a height of up to 48”. On the other hand I appreciate living with my pictures coming into existence. Once I wake up, I like to have a look at what I’ve done the night before or to analyze a half-finished painting before I go to sleep in order to decide how I will continue it the next day. My gallery in Hamburg has offered me a larger room but I haven’t quite got around to furnishing it yet. This will happen definitely though, as I plan to do some large-scale work soon.
This may be an over-generalization, but the works I’ve seen seem to either concentrate on animals or people / humanoid characters. What is the message or essence of these more purposeful choices?
Many of my pictures want the spectator to pay attention to how precious and worth of protection nature is. At the same time, I want to paint pictures that I want to live with and that have a positive effect on the room in which they hang. That’s why I avoid showing destruction and try to find motifs that convey my message in a more subtle way. I let myself guided by intuition. There’s no concept that I’ve put on paper somewhere.
Thanks for letting us into your world for a peek. Where can we find you in the future and what do you have coming up?
At the moment there are more shows on my list than ever before. After the current ones in New York and San Francisco I’ll participate in a group show in Bristol/UK, which was curated by Coates & Scarry. Then there’ll be a small solo show in Barcelona and after that I’ll take part in a very prestigious group show in Hamburg. There’ll be two further group shows in December, one of which I’ll be curating as well. There are already some plans for 2013 and 2014. Looks like you’ll be able to find me quite often in my basement studio…