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GERALD HEFFERNON: Winters, California

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I was born in the Chicago area and grew up near a large zoo which I visited often. Now I live in a small but culturally diverse town in Northern California west of Davis and east of the Napa Valley named Winters. Iʼve lived in a big city and in the country but I gravitate towards smaller urban areas very close to natural areas.

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In what ways does your environment influence your work (present and/or past)

Early on my work was mainly a concoction brewed purely in my head, with an admixture of nature and dreams. I lived in rural Wisconsin at the time with animals all around. In my middle years I lived in medium-sized cities, was in a competitive mix of artists, and in part that was why I was focusing on mechanical-photovoltaic sculpture. The p-v cell pieces still had an animal basis but I was interested in things futuristic–imagining, or basically inventing, new life forms. I had quite grand ambitions.

I was a lot smarter then and so chock full of ideas that I often couldnʼt decide what to do. This eventually took a turn more towards what Iʼm doing now. My environment has always been largely my head. (As the Spanish say, cada cabeza es un mundo–every head is a world). In other words, Iʼm not sure how or if my environment influenced me. My essential interests–animals, cave art, the beautiful creepy-crawly things in nature– were fairly consistent throughout and I was never part of a group or movement in art.

 

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What is the best part about being an artist?

Wearing old clothes and not having a cubicle.

What is the worst ?

The pay.

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How would you describe the initial impulse to make a new piece?

Basically, if I am in my studio I have an impulse to make something. I used to do more sketches and think about it in a more intellectual way, plan my moves and decide what my next series would be. Sometimes I would take two approaches and see which one won out as a lasting way forward. The subjects of the work come from whatever my current interests are.

For example, at some point in time I might be interested in life forms not based on carbon and at the same time be reading about squids. I might start out making something photovoltaic that moves like an animal but end up making paintings of squids. If it doesnʼt grab me it wonʼt be any good. My skills increase with my interest and fade piti- fully when Iʼm bored. In that way Iʼm not a professional.

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Giant wolf spider     18″W x 24″ H

How closely do you follow your original idea in the process of making a piece?

Iʼve done some pieces that were exactly what I imagined or drew or modelled. In the case of my public art, it has to be that way, contractually. Mostly my pieces fight back in varying degrees. Then they morph. And Iʼm not afraid to literally hack a sculpture apart and recombine it, or even start over with just a claw.

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The two beauties   oil on canvas

Can you talk a bit about balancing being an artist with romantic relationships/ family?

I do fairly well with family. My daughter and I get along very well and we have pretty much the same interests, which makes it easy. I donʼt believe artists, “great” or not, should get a pass for being rotten parents. Thatʼs too much ego.

As far as the other thing, I love romance. Iʼm a romantic. On the other hand, I donʼt like to be scrutinized or distracted when Iʼm working, and especially not when Iʼm not working–or appear not to be working. Romance is societyʼs current theory of a relation- ship but in practice it isnʼt all that “romantic.” Being an artist isnʼt really very romantic most of the time, which is why Iʼve never seen a good movie portrayal of an artist. So I think art and relationships are much the same kind of work, and if youʼre lucky theyʼre at the same time.

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Four eyed sighthound

How does the internet affect your work?

I don’t know that it has any effect on the content or appearance of my art. I don’t work in digital media except for adjusting images in Photoshop and uploading images of my work made in other media to a web site. 

Primarily, it affects the business side of art via web sites and the loathsome Facebook, etc.  We are still in a very clunky, adolescent stage of this technology cycle, as whiz-bang impressive as it sometimes seems.  Maybe we will evolve a different brain from it, who knows.

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I did a show in Aix-en-Provence in the early 90’s as part of a conference called Art and Cognition, a roughly equal number of artists and scientists. This was the first time I saw the internet being used.  Artists in France were sending images back and forth to artists in Japan and altering them in turn. I didn’t really get it at the time except that it was fairly fast and they had the only air-conditioned room.

The roboticists at the conference, looking at my sculptural biological mutations, told me that there was no more human biological evolution going on, that all future evolution would be achieved through mechanical-medical improvement, nanobots, etc.  It was a fairly creepy future. One artist did performances based on medical sensors displaying his bodily functions as sound and color through a computer projection on the walls. 

The future of the past is always amusing, but when the future comes it is usually more like Paleolithic Man with toys than it is the Jetsons.

 How do you get through artistʼs blocks?

I never used to have them. Now, in early geezerhood, I have mainly energy blocks. So, I take a break, nap, look at insects on my garden plants through butterfly binoculars, look through old boxes of art-useful junk or thumb through old sketch books. There is no real trick for being re-inspired except routine and creative need. You simply have to let cellular memory, muscle memory, take over, do something, and then let your intuition ring a bell when you start to do something worth doing.

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How do you deal with the disappointment/despair when your work isnʼt selling well? How do find the strength to continue?

I lapse into abject disappointment and despair. Itʼs only normal. Then I get even with the world by making more art that it wonʼt buy. Anger and revenge are actually great motivators. All artists use them even if they donʼt realize it. It also helps to drink whiskey and imagine Van Gogh cutting off his ear.

 

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What are your vices?

Whiskey, anger, vengefulness, excessive love, laziness, envy, self-pity, fear, watching baseball, lust, ego, resentment, vanity, despair, throwing parties, Manhattans.

What kind of pets do you have?

For the first time in my life, none, unless you count Jumpy and Jitters, the two feral cats I feed in my back yard. They have been neutered and given shots so I guess theyʼve becoming more like pets. But they still wonʼt be touched and look at me the way wild animals do.

For over forty years I had dogs, usually two at a time. But I got tired of them always dy- ing after 15 years–itʼs very wrenching–and who knows if I even have 15 years left my- self? Iʼve had turtles and fish and various hookbill birds, chickens, ducks, a horse, a goat, captured spiders (their housing was my art one summer), rats, mice. I have a good relationship with neighborhood scrub jays. They help plant my garden–most of the sunflowers, for instance.

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Little pig

 What is the last wild animal you saw?

The very last? A hummingbird. Or maybe a jumping spider. The last large wild animal I saw was a white-tailed deer. About the same time I saw a bunch of lions, tigers and leopards at a wonderful big cat rescue place in Wisconsin and bought one a frozen chicken. It doesnʼt get any wilder than that.

 Pick one of your pieces and describe the inspiration/inclination to make it and some of the process

See my instructional video: “My Incomprehensible and Fairly Chaotic Art Process.”

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Bear    (Grizzly bear as cultural furniture)

Do you have special things that you use which are unique to the way you work?

Yes. Not so much in painting, but most everything I use in sculpture is fairly unique. Fake fur, hot glue, glass eyes, urethane foam in different densities, urethane casting stuff, silicone rubber, thinning scissors, modified tools, bent things, cordless drills in every size, boxes of scrap wood and metal widgets, photovoltaic cells, motors, tree branches, old plastic dolls, toy parts.

Half of what I use comes from a hardware store. When hardware store people ask me what Iʼm looking for I usually have to say “Iʼm not sure.” If they ask what Iʼm going to use it for I have to say “Well, not what itʼs meant for.” Or I just say: for art.

Do you work on one piece at a time or several?

Usually several, especially in sculpture. I like to go back and forth so that if I get bored with something I donʼt get bogged down or belabor it or get married to something Iʼm afraid to wreck. You canʼt be afraid of your own work, of destroying it.

 

What inspires you?

The fact that a bee has so many moving parts or that a jumping spider is a sort of ar- thropod cat. That both giraffes and naked mole rats exist. That a fence lizard can tell when a shadow pattern hides it and will align with the shadow angles.

The fact that people can imagine and invent so many forms and shapes.

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If you could go back in time knowing what you know now, what would you tell your artist self when you were just starting out?

Stop doing that immediately! Become a biologist or a baseball player.

If that didnʼt work, Iʼd tell him to travel more when young, see cave art in person, and consider making movies. Above all, learn everything about marketing even though you thoroughly hate it.

But, still, immerse yourself in nature.

 

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Check out more of Jerry’s work  here:http://www.geraldheffernon.com

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9 Comments

  1. Ellen Coffin

    WOW!!!!! ABSOLUTELY AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL AND INSPIRING!!! will say more later, must really take a good long look! You’re a genius! What a gift to see and hear about your friend!!!! Sooooo brillliant!!! love ellen

  2. Ellen Coffin

    Wonderful questions, Fabulous Answers!!!! Love The Bear, the Wolf Spider, Radioactive Beagles!!!!! Many thanks, Gerald(Jerry)!

    • Gerald Heffernon

      Thanks for the kind words, Ellen. I do not feel worthy of “brilliant.” (Midwestern upbringing) “Not bad” is the most I can handle. I understand you are an artist who takes it way beyond the ordinary. I look forward to seeing your work on this blog. In the meantime, please send me your website link. Not sure if you do that here or through Irene. I’m a social media clodhopper.

      Gerald

    • Ellen Coffin

      Gerald!!! Just seeing this now! No website at present, just some stuff on r.bubble mostly to create printed cards, but thanks for the interest!
      Love the cosmic humor ( so much better than irony and cynicism) in your work. Best to you at all times, Ellen

  3. Joseph Adorno

    Truly creative.. very interesting dialogue. Thank you to Gerald you are a true artist in your soul and in your sacrifices.
    Do you have sketches of your pieces – schematics, before you start one of your creatures or is it a process similar to working with clay where you give and take and visualize and gain clarity of forms, expression and emotions of the creatures as you go?
    Thanks
    Joseph

  4. Gerald Heffernon

    Thanks, Joseph.
    These days I don’t generally do sketches beforehand–unless it’s a large piece and has to be structurally designed or some element is very expensive. Otherwise I sketch in 3-D as I go, combining elements, subtracting, just trying things out. In that way it is like clay, both additive and subtractive. In other ways not, since I prefabricate parts (skulls, antlers, horns, etc) and purchase parts (fake fur, eyes, furniture legs, etc.) that are combined in units of different materials rather than as a single material. It’s a very forgiving process of fiddling and tinkering, especially at the early stages. When I teach it to people they are often surprised at this.
    Gerald

  5. Joseph Adorno

    Thank you for your very informative answer. Your work is very creative and fascinating ,
    the creatures really come alive.

  6. Gerald- you might consider applying for a Virginia Groot Foundation… They tend to give awards to artists who make strong and great, strange, figurative, narrative work… I think if you applied, you would get a grant. The head of the foundation, Candace Groot, I think would love your work! (I have loved your work since I first became aware of it, when you were showing in California at the same gallery as my friend Beth Foley). Anyway, in regards to the Groot Foundation,
    if you google their website you can see the work of past recipients. (the deadline is march 1)

  7. POLLY BEERY-POLGLASE

    HI JERRY ~ SO HAPPY TO FIND A CONNECTION TO YOU !! I SEE THE RESPONSES ARE A YEAR ~ YEAR + 1/2 OLD SO MAYBE YOU WON’T SEE THIS NOTE. IF YOU DO ~ HI !! YOUR PIECES ARE WONDERFUL AND EXOTIC AND I LOVE THE ZING OF THEM.
    TAKE MY FRIEND ~ POLLY ~ FROM THE WAY WAY BACK >*

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