Very soon into sitting and speaking with Stefanie Heinze, the artist invites me into her mind, captivatingly explaining to me her ever-evolving craft. Known for her surreal, playful, and brightly coloured works that teeter between figuration and abstraction, she often begins her process by drawing on paper before translating this to canvas, going on to create huge, vivid artworks that beguile with their surrealist landscapes.
Frail Juice, her latest show which debuted earlier this year at Petzel Gallery in New York, humorously explored power dynamics, systems, and the dissolution of historical norms, and when I ask her if she considers herself to have a signature style or process, she adamantly tells me that she does not. Rather, Heinze simply explains that over time: “I just took the pen that felt the most smooth in my hand, and chose the paint that felt the most problematic and weird.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK TO SOMEONE THAT HAS NEVER ENCOUNTERED IT BEFORE?
SH I’d tell people that my work is simple: I’m a painter and a drawer. I create quite huge works mostly which start with me drawing, and then I translate this to a painting. They incorporate a lot of colour and often come with a lot of humor, verging between figuration and abstraction.
CAN YOU GIVE ME AN OVERVIEW OF YOUR ARTISTIC CAREER?
SH I first became inspired to paint and draw when I was quite young, probably around four years old. I saw my father painting an Easter egg and I thought, “I want to do that too”. I like to do things that let my imagination roam wild, and drawing is an easy outlet. I have a voice with my pens. Growing up I just drew things like cartoon figures and did whatever, I played around with watercolours when I was in my teens in high school. My motivations throughout my life have been because I often stop and think “Why am I doing this? What do I want to give to the world?”, and this curiosity has led me to where I am today.
HOW HAS THIS BIZARRE YEAR BEEN FOR YOU?
SH It’s been an intense year and I’ve tried to be super careful, often keeping to myself socially. I’ve spent a lot of time alone and had plenty of time to paint; I was preparing for my show in New York and setting up my new studio, which was great, but I often felt like I was living in a weird bubble. It felt weird not being able to go to my show at the Petzel Gallery in New York and found it hard to comprehend the reality we found ourselves in.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT FRAIL JUICE?
SH Frail Juice actually had a lot of names before I settled on it, I thought about calling it Detachable Tails, The Unmansplainable, Powerless Nap, High Potency Brood… Usually, the title comes to me after the collection is done. I’m a very bad poet; if I try to write poetry it doesn’t come out great, but I think the title has a subtle poetic approach to it. Through the collection, I sought to explore power dynamics – something I’m greatly interested in – as well as the dissolution of historical norms and the paradoxes that arise when investigating power structures. It touches on systems – such as political systems but also nervous systems. I’d describe the collection as being quite humorous and tender in some ways.
IS THERE AN OVERARCHING THEME OR A MESSAGE THAT RUNS THROUGH ALL OF YOUR WORK?
SH It differs a little bit from collection to collection, but in general, it’s very hard to pinpoint just one theme. The angle or my motivation for creating art is to explore fluidity, shape, and colour. I like the psychological aspects of a painting and how it acts as a bridge to the world. Some themes shape with time, so if I prepare a show, I have a selection of drawings that might only hold a few similarities at first, but eventually they start to gain a bit more direction and cohesion. I’m fascinated by this actually, the fact that things can go hand-in-hand automatically.
DO YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF HAVING TO DESCRIBE YOUR SIGNATURE STYLE?
SH I do get asked about my signature style a lot, but I always try to be careful when I talk about styles. I understand the need for people to see a style in order to recognise things, and perhaps people might comment on how artists change their styles so often, but I personally am not so much about it, because if you study the process it comes rather naturally. Style existed before Instagram and probably even before the art market, but I find it important to differentiate between styles and motivation. The way I ended up doing what I’m doing now is because I just took the pen that felt the most smooth in my hand and chose the paint that felt the most problematic and weird. Ultimately I just create something that I want to show the world and that looks like something I haven’t seen before.
IS THERE A SPECIFIC EMOTIONAL PROCESS YOU GO THROUGH WHILST WORKING?
SH Not necessarily, I think the medium itself brings pretty simple emotions to the surface. Working on one painting is like working on a person; you have a new encounter with a different individual each time. For example, If I put some neon orange onto an artwork – like I did today – it felt like I was yelling at someone – it felt extreme and quite humorous! I mean, the paintings don’t literally talk to me, but it’s a very intuitive encounter I have with them that changes for every painting.
FINALLY, I WANTED TO GO BACK TO WHAT YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT CONTEMPLATING WHAT YOU WANT TO GIVE BACK TO THE WORLD – HAVE YOU FOUND THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION?
SH My art is a tool. As an adult, that question always comes into my mind, and before I grew up, I was just trying to create an island where I could space out from a world that didn’t always work for me. A lot of things in my childhood and upbringing weren’t very pleasant, so art was a good outlet to just forget about everything. It is a great tool for surviving, but there’s also a pleasant aspect to it. It’s a way for me to show how I understand the world and how I can create something that maybe isn’t just showing the obvious. Put simply, my art is a medium through which I can express a very complex reality – and that’s what I want to communicate to the world.