Artist Interview - Valerie Hegarty
By Maria Maung
We recently stumbled across the works of American Artist Valerie Hegarty. A fusion of painting and sculpture, her unique style and the striking nature of her works immediately intrigued us. So much so, that we tracked her down to discover more about her initial concepts and how they are brought to life.
Can you tell us how you developed your aesthetic?
My personal aesthetic develops in the same way as my personality. It continually evolves over time and is affected by life experience, which also includes art education. I think my aesthetic is similar to my personality in that it is a bit dark, humorous, and energetic, always striving for transformation, whether a material transformation or a conceptual one. I first started making work that looked like it was eroding or decaying in graduate school when I was exploring interests in memory and place. I would glue layers of paper to the gallery walls and floor and then peel at them, so it looked like an older space was discovered under the walls in a state of ruin. This idea of “uncovering” a past history started to be applied to recreated paintings and sculptures from art history.
How best do you describe your work?
I don’t know a best way to describe it. Let’s say it’s a cross between painting, sculpture and installation and the work often elicits confusion in the viewer about what exactly it is that they are looking at. The recent body of work often begins with a copy of a painting from American art history that appears to have been subject to some external event, often violent, such as fire, flood, or in a less violent case—the passage of time/neglect and decay. There may be surrealist-like changes, such as stretcher bars growing back into branches, or a watermelon exploding into the shape of a human tongue. The external story often weaves together with the story being told in the painting, so there are layers of fiction and metaphor.
What influences and inspires you as an artist?
My life, the time I live in, the world I live in, the events that transpire on a personal level and a global level. My outlook on all those things and my desire to express feelings that can’t be put into words. That is the magic of the visual image--and so interviews are always hard when the work has to be described. I’m inspired by other artists from Old Master to contemporary, cartoons, film, magic realism in fiction, urban decay and the natural world.
How do you develop your concepts?
It may start with an image, let’s say an art history painting that reminds me of something contemporary, such as early American still life painting with watermelons and the recent news story of fields of watermelons in China and Mexico that exploded when they were sprayed with the wrong growth hormone causing their insides to grow faster than their outsides. I play around with the image in Photoshop—in this case I took a painting of a watermelon and morphed it in Photoshop to try to make it look like it was exploding, and at some point it started to look like a human tongue. I liked this transformation because it seemed like the watermelon was sticking its tongue out at the viewer as if to say, “ha, ha that’s what you get for messing with me”. Once I have a collaged image I’m interested in building with materials, I first paint the painting, then I start cutting into it and building on it with a combination of wire, tinfoil and tape to create the 3D form. Finally I paper-mache over that armature, and then paint it. There is a lot of back and forth and reworking in this process until I arrive at something that looks interesting and somewhat convincing. Even though a watermelon turning into a tongue is impossible, I like the object to look believable in some way.
What do you want the viewer to take away from your art?
I want them to take away whatever they want. I’m working from my own interests and the hope is that the viewer finds it interesting on some level and can create personal meaning from it.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Working with the Brooklyn Museum to create three installations in their early American period rooms last year. I love the Museum and the period rooms so it was an honor to create work specifically to be sited in the rooms.
What do you feel it takes to succeed as an exhibiting artist in New York?
Hard work, tenacity, generosity with your peers, building an artist community and being active in it. Apply to every opportunity for workspace and group shows in the city.
Any advice to other creatives?
Meet the people that do what you do and have conversations and do projects with them. Be generous with your peers, they are your allies not your competition. Don’t worry about being famous.
What's next on the cards for you?
I just started this week a one-year position as The Andrew W. Mellon Artist-in-Residence at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey where I will be making a new body of work, working with students, and co-teaching a landscape installation class with a professor of Geography from the Environmental Studies Department.
For more on Valerie’s work: