SUSAN HEIDEMAN Animalmineralvegetable

February 24–May 27, 2012

A celebration of the work of Smith Professor Susan Heideman, whose paintings and sewn paper collages explore the textures and movements of imagined organic forms. Heideman will retire in spring 2012.


Over the last decade I have been making artworks about “in-betweens,” entities that live in the lines separating taxonomy, realm, and condition.  The forms defy Newtonian physics, unaffected by gravity or mass.  Rubbery things dissolve into the diaphanous, while filmy substances penetrate solid planes.  Regardless of density, scale, or structure, these object/beings swim, fly, hurl, creep, ooze, or ride geyser-like spouts through their plastic contexts.  A cavity good for hiding may prove to be something’s mouth.  Fingers and feet, knobs and tubules, organelles and auras sprout from or retract into matter of uncertain composition as these beings thrust, twist, and fold themselves over and into each other.  Although their interactions chart something I can barely name, “nature’s insides” comes close.  I try to convey an otherworldliness that is weird and familiar, as full of pratfalls and belly flops as of wonder.

I express this border-crossing in two categories of abstract artworks:  large oil paintings on stretched canvas, and sewn paper collages.  I refer to the latter, ongoing since 2006, as the Proteanna Series.  These works consist of torn and reassembled fragments of my old monotypes, works whose imagery was inspired by invertebrate marine biology.  Sewing is a key element in this collage process; I use it both as the sole means of attaching paper to paper, and as a method of “drawing” new imagery.  I begin the process by ripping the monotypes into pieces with little to no regard for how the tearing ruptures the imagery.  Then I start reassembling the jagged, disparate pieces into phylogenetically-challenged hybrid forms.  I suture unlike forms together, sew these grafted entities onto large sheets of watercolor paper, then paint (with aqueous media) and sew additional features and forms into and around them, further mongrelizing their identities in ways that are completely improvised.  This process may continue for days or weeks, as new sutured forms get sewn atop others, and additional “drawing,” (ie, sewing); painting; and grafting goes on in a continuous evolutionary process of accrual, obliteration, and fusion driven by a kind of artistic creationism. 

Image Credit: Susan Heideman. American, born 1950. Spawn, 2010. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist