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Heather McLean

There wasn’t really ever a defining moment of deciding to be an artist, I don’t remember ever not being one. But I remember seeing Frida Kahlo’s portrait of Dorothy Hale, in person, when I was about 10, and it had a very lasting effect on me. I could tell it was not like other art, and her stuff had an honesty and rawness to it, that transcended so many other “safe” pieces.






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Let’s start by talking about your art background and what inspired you be an artist/ make art a profession.  What is your earliest memory of wanting to be an artist? What does being an artist mean to you?

There wasn’t really ever a defining moment of deciding to be an artist, I don’t remember ever not being one. But I remember seeing Frida Kahlo’s portrait of Dorothy Hale, in person, when I was about 10, and it had a very lasting effect on me. I could tell it was not like other art, and her stuff had an honesty and rawness to it, that transcended so many other “safe” pieces.

For me, being an artist means that my work is to observe the world and human condition, and report and represent it through my language, so others may see, feel, and understand through another lens. It’s creating something that does not yet exist, in the phenomenal world, and for me that is a way to both excavate my demons, and to provide a bridge to other positive possibilities of being.

Why did you decide to stop tattooing and decide to paint/ illustrate full time?

There was a backlog of ideas for my own projects accumulating at the gate, and I could no longer ignore it. I wanted to see what art was like for me outside the medium of tattooing, and outside the somewhat safe world of commercial art . I had an opportunity to make it work, so I took it.

How has your work evolved over the past few years?

The biggest shift for me, is a move away from the hyper defined, illustrative longevity requirement of tattoos, into a more fragmented and implied mystery of suggestion and subtlety in painting. And of course the luxury of exploring things in my work that are based on my personal interests or vision. Also I’m working on much bigger canvases than I did tattooing.

How do you work and approach you subject?

I have a list of running notes and sketches, ideas I get when I’m reading, walking, in yoga, listening to podcasts, or about to fall asleep. Then I develop the sketch, gather or take reference photos or drawings, compose the layout, and start working. I have a pretty good idea of what I want the thing to look like when it’s done, but some of the decisions are made in the process.

Is there any kind of style you would like to learn? Or kind of material you would like to work with in the future?

That’s all part of my current process: slacking the stronghold on over-indicating a subject. It’s hard to get away from over-articulating things after 15 years of it! And I recently started using oils, that’s a fun challenge. Sometimes i think id like to learn more about digital art, but i love the analog too much.

Tell us more about The Ema Show, Hellion Gallery in 2016…?

Ema plaques are traditional Shinto prayer or wish plaques, hung at temples. Each artist gets three plaques, one to go to Portland, one to Paris, and one to Tokyo (for a show in each city.) I picked the three gunas from Hindu philosophy to illustrate on the plaques.


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