On September 20, Bendixen Contemporary Art in Copenhagen will play host to Daniel Heidkamp and Ryan Schneider, two New York painters whose names—and work—you should know. In advance of their collaborative outing (cheekily titled "Schneids and Heids"), they had a conversation about subjects, process, mistakes and abstraction.
Daniel Heidkamp: What inspired this new group of paintings?
Ryan Schneider: Mexico, islands, women, faces, hairstyles, the beach, the North Sea, foliage, the night, dusk, shapes, color, eyes, waves, curls, breasts, swimming, meditation, shadows, Kirchner, Picabia, Gauguin and Matisse. What about you?
DH: For me, inspiration always starts with something observed. My source material comes from ‘on-the-spot’ painting. I sit outside with my canvas on the ground and try to capture moments when the ordinary world appears entirely otherworldly. In this group of paintings, subjects range from lagoons, waterways and dunes along the Atlantic coast, to more urban settings—New York City rooftop gardens or a municipal fountain. I’m drawn to circumstances where the natural and the manmade intertwine—and where atmosphere and light effects best come alive through painting. I enjoy the ‘sporting’ aspect of observational painting. It’s like hunting: snooping around outdoors, painting in unforgiving environments with a strong likelihood of failure, but where there is always the possibility of capturing something great. Some of my small outdoor paintings are finished works, while other serve as seedlings for larger paintings in the studio.
RS: I don’t paint from direct observation. But in a way, my work is very observational. I am always looking—at people, objects, shadows, the sky, etc. I’m taking pictures with my mind. And when I’m actually standing in front of a canvas painting, those things start to appear. In a way, I am working like an abstract painter with this group of works, responding to what’s happening on the canvas and letting that dictate what I do next. This is a departure for me. With your work. you are constantly trying to see more of what’s there, more color, more forms, etc. I feel like these paintings of yours are very alive. For me, the challenge is knowing when to stop. I could keep going forever, but then you end up with something dead.
DH: When I get going on a larger painting I like to know a lot about what I’m up against. Experience tells me that false starts and f-bombs are inevitable, so I like all those painful parts to happen "off stage," or more specifically, in smaller preparatory paintings. By the time I begin working on a slightly larger painting, I want to understand as much as possible about the picture, or I like how you put it, "to see more of what’s there." Some of the prep paintings are good and make it into shows, while others end up unstretched in a pile on my floor. Either way is OK. It’s low stakes, non-precious and despite all the preparation, there are unpredictable and exciting things that happen because that’s just how it goes with oil painting. Knowing when to stop is about knowing what you’re trying to do. You stop when everything is painted. I think there is false concern about "overworking" the art. The trick is to work in a way that doesn’t muddy everything up. Bury the hard work in the woods or pile it into a box in your studio. I definitely see a relationship to abstraction in your work, but as far back as I can remember, you’ve never shown a purely abstract painting. Why, despite your intuitive process, do you insist on representational painting?
RS: My concern is always with "things." I’ve made abstract paintings before, when I was younger I did a lot, but my instincts tell me to paint faces, people, figures, objects. Once I’ve decided on a "thing" that turns me on, which is very intuitive, then the painting can actually happen. I can’t spend hours fretting over it. If I’m open, my first marks create the image itself. And I know, those hiccups in a painting can be devastating and ruin the whole picture. Oil painting lends itself to mistakes. That’s why it’s so interesting. Then sometimes it’s like I had an internal road map. My painting in our Copenhagen show, "North Sea Red," was like that. I went to the studio one night with no particular plans. And when I left 6 hours later, that painting was there. I had a very distinct feeling that it wanted to come into existence on its own.
DH: Talk about the women and waves in these paintings.
RS: These women are a symbol of power for me. They often reflect my state of being at a particular time. Nature finds its way into their bodies, faces, hair. This is reflective of my state of being lately. I’m not trying to fight everything anymore, I’m letting it in. That’s how it is with waves in the ocean. You have to go with them. If you fight them, you’ll lose. If I go at a painting from the beginning, hung up on results, muscling my way through it, I’m lost. In the ocean, you can’t have a plan. It has a plan for you. I try meditation, which is just breathing, sitting still and attempting to be present. When I paint that’s how I want to be: Present, ready for anything.
DH: Sometimes when painting outdoors or in the studio, I get in a ‘zone’ where time and space collapse a little bit. My hope is that this experience can also happen for people who look at my art. A lot of my work is about creating space—even if it’s just an imaginary space for the mind’s eye only. I’m interested in exploring a type of realism—not a photographic realism—but a realism of weight. If I paint a leaf or the surface of a swamp, I want to give a sense of how that looks and also how it feels, the temperature, and light.
RS: I’m excited about this show because I think it illuminates two approaches to some of the age-old issues of painting: representation, color, narrative and a relationship to abstraction. Sometimes we arrive in similar territory, but to me, the underlying vibrations are distinct. With this group of paintings hanging together it will be interesting to explore the harmonies between our work, as well as moments when things start clash.
"Schneids and Heids" opens on September 20 at Bendixen Contemporary Art.
Above: Daniel Heidkamp, "A More Open Array," 2013 (oil on linen, 25" x 18")
Above: Ryan Schneider, "Dip Your Toe in It," 2013 (oil on paper, 30" x 24")
Above: Daniel Heidkamp, "Night Garden," 2013 (oil on linen, 38" x 32")
Above: Ryan Schneider, "Eyes Be Closed I Be Open," 2013 (oil on canvas, 60" x 48")
Above: Daniel Heidkamp, "Lagoon – A Key," 2013 (oil on linen, 38" x 32")
top image: Ryan Schneider, "I Am No Island," 2012 (oil on linen, 20" x 16")